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Saturday, December 18, 2004
ANOTHER ISLE ICON TO CLOSE
The Wisteria’s demise
"It's just heartbreaking," said Myrtle Ching, a waitress for more than 17 years. "It's hard to find a place like this. It's a real family. The customers have been coming for years."
A sign went up on the door yesterday informing customers that the Wisteria will close before the new year.
The wide selection of Japanese and American food at reasonable prices has attracted generations of diners. It's a place where grandparents take their grandchildren to eat sukiyaki or spaghetti.
The banquet rooms and booths in the dining room have hosted countless birthdays, anniversaries, retirement parties and family meals over the years.
Naomi and Mel Sumida have been eating dinner at the Wisteria for more than 30 years.
"It was a family thing," Naomi Sumida said. She remembers going with her husband's father and taking their kids to the restaurant, sometimes as often as once a month for dinner on a Friday or Sunday night.
Her favorite is the tofu and eggplant. But the restaurant is not a favorite place for her children, who have grown up and live on the mainland.
The customers are loyal but getting older.
"The kids like restaurants like Roy's," Ching said.
"This is like home to us," said "Uncle" Bobby Lee, who was a having a beer in the bar with manager Karen Yokoyama.
The bar, off to the side of the restaurant, is the kind of place where employees and customers call each other uncle or aunty.
About 70 people work at the restaurant, Yokoyama said. Most have worked there for 10 years or more.
"It's the end of an era," she said. "It took everybody by surprise."
Bartender Glenn Fong said it hasn't really sunk in yet that he will be out of a job in January.
"I've got car payments," he said. "It's hard."
As word of the Wisteria's closing spread, the parking lot filled up and a line formed for tables.
Donald Cowne, who lives in Portland, Ore., but was visiting Oahu, said a friend called him with the news, and he came straight down.
Cowne, a regular who used to live nearby, stops by every time he returns to Hawaii. "It's a tragedy," he said.
The Wisteria is joining other old-time establishments like the Columbia Inn, the Tahitian Lanai and the Kaimuki Inn, places with character and history that are no longer around, Cowne said.
Comedian Frank De Lima, another longtime regular, has called the Wisteria his second home. The owners hired him for his first television commercial.
In an interview two years ago, De Lima recalled coming to the Wisteria with his parents.
"My dad loved it. My mom loves it. My family celebrated all their birthdays here," he said.
The Wisteria's bar will close on Dec. 29, and the restaurant will close at 2 p.m. the next day.
Ching said: "It's just sad. I'm really, really sad. I'm talking to you now and I feel like crying."