Sunday, September 29, 2002



Higas still run Zippy’s
as a family business

75 tons of its famous chili are sold
monthly by the popular chain

Star-Bulletin staff

When brothers Charles and Francis Higa first acquired property on South King Street, they were not quite sure what to do with it. Then Francis suggested they open a drive-in, despite the fact that neither of them had any restaurant experience.

So on Oct. 16, 1966, Zippy's was born -- open 24 hours a day from the beginning.

"When we first started, we didn't know the business too well, so I could come in at 3 a.m. and leave at 9 p.m., and (Francis) would come in at 3 p.m. and leave at 6 or 7 a.m.," Charlie remembered.

At 72, Charlie continues to come in before dawn, even though the operation has expanded to include 2,200 employees. Francis died in 1999, leaving his eldest son, Jason, in charge.

Zippy's has come a long way since the Higas opened that first fast-food drive-in in McCully.

There are now 22 Zippy's locations on Oahu, many of which also house a Napoleon's Bakery and Osaka Ozakuya or sushi bar. Zippy's also has its own catering service, the Catering Experience.

Zippy's restaurants, such as this one at 1725 S. King St., have flourished, thanks to a varied menu and loyal repeat customers.

The McCully drive-in evolved into the Hawaii's largest locally owned chain of dine-in restaurants.

Then there's the chili.

In the beginning, the drive-in sold about 120 pounds of chili a day. Now Zippy's sells 75 tons of chili a month -- about 20 percent of the Zippy's food sold.

Much of that chili is sold through fund-raisers by 500 to 600 organizations a year.

According to Charles Higa, the Zippy's benefit chili tickets were started in 1971 as an answer to all the groups that asked for donations.

"All these baseball teams would ask for donations, T-shirts, bat and ball," he said.

The Higas suggested that the groups sell chili tickets for 40 percent of the sale.

The Zippy's chain started in McCully, with its first restaurant opening in October 1966. There are now 22 Zippy's outlets on Oahu.

"That way, we don't have to donate a lot of things to clubs," he said.

Jason Higa, 38, president and chief executive officer of Zippy's, said that Zippy's chili has become recognized as a taste of Hawaii, as evidenced by the popularity of the mail-order service to the mainland.

"More people on the East Coast appreciate it," he said. "On the East Coast, depending on where they're at ... they're just so happy to eat lau lau, kalua pig, apple Napples."

"It's kind of touching when they send us letters about how much they look forward to it. As soon as they get it, they cook it right away," he said. "There's nothing like local food for a lot of people."

As much as Zippy's has grown, "We still run it as a family business, and I think that's one of the things that makes us different," Jason said.

Jason's brother Kendrick is also a Zippy's employee, as are Charles' children, Joyce and Roger.

Although he worked summers at Zippy's while he was growing up, Jason had not planned to take over the family business. He practiced law for five years before coming to work with his father in 1995.

After five years of practicing law, he said, "I kind of decided that I didn't foresee myself staying in law, and I guess the opportunity of working with my dad was appealing ... and coming back into the family business."


Founded: Oct. 16, 1966, by brothers Francis and Charles Higa

Number of locations: 22

Zippy's Number of employees: 2,200

Biggest seller: Original Recipe Chili accounts for 20 percent of the food sold

Amount of chili sold each month: 75 tons

Origins of name: Charles said they planned to call it Zip Drive-in, but because zip means zip code they had to add the "py's"

Ways to get Zippy's food: At the restaurant, in the freezer section of the supermarket and over the Internet at

Where is the food cooked: All the food is produced in a USDA approved kitchen in Waipio and delivered daily

Also part of the Zippy's family: Napoleon's Bakery, Osaka Okazuya, Charlie's Bar, Zippy's Meals To Go, Hawaiian Bagel, Kahala Sushi, Pearl City Sushi, The Catering Experience


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