Erika Engle

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Roy Kelley, left, founder of Outrigger Enterprises Inc., and Raymond Hong, founder of House of Hong, celebrated the opening of the restaurant in 1963. The well-known dining place is closing this month.

Farewell, House of Hong

The 41-year-old eatery, visited by
celebrators and celebrities, is closing

The landmark House of Hong restaurant in Waikiki will close at the end of the month after 40 years in business.

It's not exactly a shocking announcement, as its eventual closure for Outrigger Enterprises Inc.'s Lewers redevelopment project has long been known. However, the date puts a definite period on the tale of what was the "first elegant, upscale Chinese restaurant in Hawaii," said President Les Hong in a 2002 Star-Bulletin interview.

"I'm sad, but the economic reality of it is that I just can't make a go of it anymore," Hong said yesterday.

He bemoans the cost of running a business, "especially a restaurant. Insurance is a killer: TDI (temporary disability insurance), workers' comp and mandatory (health insurance)," he said.

Art, dinnerware and other items in the restaurant will be sold by McClain Auctions May 22.

"There's been a great deal of interest," Hong said. Proceeds will be poured back into the company.

Raymond Hong, Les' late father, started the restaurant at the suggestion of Outrigger's founder Roy Kelley. Already an owner of land, a tavern and a retail store, Raymond Hong's focus honed in on the House of Hong.

The restaurant "was really my father's project. He loved the place and practically lived there. He paid incredible detail to everything," Les said.

Hong took his restaurant chefs to China for training and the younger Hong credits his father and chefs with introducing Peking duck to Honolulu.

In its heyday the restaurant was the place for glittering celebrities and for ordinary people marking special occasions, looking to enjoy a multi-course Cantonese dinner over several hours.

Times have changed.

The House of Hong's closure won't leave Les Hong with tons of spare time.

The family's real estate holdings and other ventures include The Original Chuck's Steakhouse, Charley's Tavern, Lewers Street Loft & Lanai and the Malia Cafe at the Ohana Waikiki Malia Hotel. Hong is running the latter until the hotel can find a permanent operator, he noted.

Hong is also cooking up his next big idea, although he declined to provide details.

"Everybody knows that Kapolei is the place. It's just happening out there," he said.

Have you signed a lease?

"It won't be a lease," Hong said coyly, offering no further information.

Once Outrigger's Lewers project begins to affect the family's other Waikiki businesses, "I think I'm going to consolidate and make this one Kapolei project ... put all my energies into that."

The Red Chamber Bar, part of the House of Hong, will close temporarily along with the restaurant but will reopen June 1.

The restaurant is open from 5 to 10 p.m. seven nights a week and reservations are recommended, a day or two in advance for banquets. The phone number is 923-0202.

Eateries hit the big time

A local cornucopia of cuisine artists is getting national ink and ether this week. They are stars of the "What's Hot This Week" list in Nation's Restaurant News.

The Rev. Abraham Akaka, left front, Raymond Hong, center, and Roy Kelley, right, were pictured at the House of Hong blessing in 1963.

The Honolulu eateries listed on the Web site can be seen at (free registration is required to view the site).

Arancino di Mare at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, The Bistro at 1750 Kalakaua Ave., Jackie's Kitchen and Longhi's at Ala Moana Center and Tiki's Grill & Bar in the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel are listed. The listings include each restaurant's seating capacity, type of cuisine, specialties, a main course price range, and chef and owner information.

While familiar with the publication, none of the restaurateurs contacted by TheBuzz had yet seen the listing and were jazzed to hear about it.

"Really? Oh cool!" said Reid Yasunaga, general manager of Arancino di Mare.

Don Buechner, general manager of The Bistro, was also happy. "We need to be out there in front of everybody," he said.

Dina Berta, NRN's Rocky Mountain region senior editor, is the one who noticed the restaurants.

"It's just a matter of calling around, asking people what they thought," she said.

She consulted several sources, from businesspeople to restaurant reviewers, using guidelines including the eateries' length of time in business, whether they were likely to be in business by the time the list went to print, and "what's everybody talking about," Berta said.

She was in the islands recently for research on stories about local fish and on Maui Raspberry Wine Jelly created by the Maui Culinary Academy, but tragically didn't get to dine at any of the restaurants.

Berta hopes for another island trip, in the interest of more research.

The last time Honolulu restaurants were featured was in November 2002.

Listings in an industry publication didn't necessarily increase foot traffic for Big City Diner, Meritage, Ocean House, Sergio's or Tavola Tavola, as the industry publication isn't read by the masses.

However, "We were very proud of that (listing) because it's a national publication. It's big in the industry. It's the Wall Street Journal of the restaurant business," said Big City Diner President Lane Muraoka.

"We were stoked when we found out."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at:


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