DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Marian Wong holds a Little Red Hen plate lunch, a fried chicken dish developed by her late husband, Andy, that is now sold at Byron's Drive Inn.
RED AND YELLOW SAUCES,
AND SO MUCH MORE
IT'S only a burger.
A pre-made, pre-packed, pre-frozen patty on a very ordinary bun.
Yet these burgers are the subject of genuine devotion, to the point that people buy them by the dozens and freeze them for later microwaving.
But it ain't the beef, people, it's the sauces.
The tangy, chunky red and yellow sauces that coat the tops and bottoms of burgers at Byron's Drive Inn migrated across the island from the old Andy's Drive-Inn in Kailua, where they were something of a legend.
"I remember when we closed, we sold gallons at Andy's," recalls Marian Wong, wife of the late restaurateur extraordinaire, Andy Wong.
Those sauces are the objects of much desire among readers of this column, who've long been after the formulas.
They've also been after the recipes for clam chowder from Chowder House, braised oxtails from Byron's, peppered ahi from Orson's, the macaroni salad from Andy's ...
All these restaurants were opened by Andy and Marian Wong over a 50-year span that began with Andy's in 1957.
Not to get your hopes up: I have none of those recipes. Many have sought them, Marian says, but none shall receive. "The things that we make money on -- cannot give the recipes."
I do have, however, very respectable facsimiles of the sauce recipes (see Page D4). But for now: the story of a family and food and what makes for a local-style legend on both counts.
Many of the Wong restaurant dishes were developed at home by Andy: tripe stew, short ribs, the Little Red Hen, all still sold at Byron's; cioppino, shrimp and oyster burgers, still staples at Chowder House.
After Andy's came Byron's, Byron II Steakhouse, Andrew's (high-end Italian), Fishmonger's Wife (high-end seafood), Coral Reef ("the first Chinese restaurant to have carpet," Marian says), Wong's Okazuya (family-style Japanese), Chinese Chuckwagon and Seafood Emporium (both self-explanatory).
"He could have stuck with all drive-ins. He could have been like Zippy's," Marian says of her husband. "But he wanted different kinds. He wasn't satisfied with just drive-ins."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Margie Pedrina, manager of Byron's, says the famous red and yellow sauces are made weekly by the bucket and kept in a walk-in refrigerator.
The names Byron and Orson were for the couple's sons, but there were no girl names, although they had four daughters, too. "My husband said that a restaurant named after a woman would not be successful."
Wong's Okazuya was considered the daughters' restaurant.
ANDY DIED of cancer in 1985, and the family restaurants are now just Byron's near the airport and Chowder House in Ward Warehouse.
The businesses remain on a steady course due to an extremely loyal customer base, and employees who started with the Wongs decades ago.
Example of the first case: Larry Murata, who lives in Salt Lake but used to be a regular at Andy's across the Pali. The closure in 1999 took him by surprise. "I remember when I went out there -- eh, what happened?"
Now he's a regular at Byron's, where he orders what he always ordered at Andy's. "My wife, she always gotta study the menu. Not me. I know what I want ... 99 percent of the time it's beef stew. Unless they have Swiss steak."
Example of the second case: Margie Pedrina, manager at Byron's, who's been there 11 years, and was at Andy's for eight years before that.
Andy's employment was a family affair, Pedrina says. Her father-in-law, utility man at Andy's, encouraged her to work there, where she joined two sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law. "It was fun and work. You mix it together, you don't want to go home."
ANDY WONG was a Saint Louis School graduate who had restaurant work in his blood. His father ran the Fair Price Grill on Hotel Street, Marian says. "My husband used to work there and get 10 cents tip."
Marian graduated from Roosevelt. Her parents died when she was a teenager, leaving her to raise her younger sister. As a result she didn't go to college, so eventually Andy came back from the University of Maryland to wrap up his business degree at the University of Hawaii -- and be with her. They married in 1953.
The first Wong business was Leon's Tavern in Kailua, opened in 1954. Kui Lee used to sing there, Marian says. Shortly afterward came the drive-in, and it was onward and upward for Andy.
Marian taught herself to bake at an advanced level, eventually making her own inroads into her husband's restaurants through sweets. "I made a bet with him. He said people that drink won't eat pastries ... he lost that bet."
Her grasshopper pie became a signature dessert at Byron II. She eventually created different pastries for each restaurant: lemon soufflé for Fishmonger's, lemon crunch and cherry cheesecake for Orson's, sweet potato and pecan pies for Andrew's. "I was baking every night after the kids went to bed."
That was life. In the morning, Andy would drive the kids to Punahou School; she'd pick them up. She worked at the drive-in and ferried the kids to their various activities, then at night, she'd bake.
"But you know, that was the best time in my life, raising children and working at the restaurant. Somehow you manage. And those days, it was fun running a restaurant."
IN 1993 Marian got married again, to Dewey Kim, a childhood friend -- they were classmates at Lincoln Elementary and graduated together from Roosevelt. The combined Wong-Kim family consists of 12 children and five grandchildren.
Of Marian's kids, Lori is a consultant developing dishes for the restaurants, and Dhana, a massage therapist, is also a baker, using many of her mother's recipes. Orson is a CPA, Didi a teacher at Punahou, Lisa a nun and Byron a project manager for the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dewey Kim, Marian Wong's second husband, helps her run the last of the family restaurants -- Byron's Drive Inn and the Chowder House at Ward Warehouse.
Before retiring, Kim was chancellor for the community colleges. His restaurant experience: zero. He refers to Andy Wong as a "genius," and remains awed by the decisions that he made -- and the successes that resulted.
"If I were with her 60 years ago, we would never have a Chowder House. In Hawaii, why have a Chowder House? It's ridiculous," he said.
Hooking up with Marian meant hooking up with the food biz. "I had to help her bake pies -- sweet potato pies. I would be with her 'til 2 or 3 in the morning and we'd bring the pies to the restaurant, Andrew's. It was crazy. Good thing the restaurant closed or we wouldn't have gotten married, I think."
THE WONG restaurants weathered the occasional downturn -- for example, when McDonald's opened near Andy's, then Jack in the Box and Burger King. "Everybody went to them; they had to go someplace new. But because we owned that building -- fortunately -- we just rode it out and Andy said, 'Don't worry, they'll come back.' And they did. Business was good."
Eventually, though, the restaurants closed when their leases came up and weren't renewed. And in the '90s, the umbrella company, Pacific Food Services, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Kim describes the problem as related to cash flow -- business had slowed with the restaurant closures. They both became more closely involved with daily operations at that point, and in 1999 Pacific Food came out of bankruptcy.
"I was determined that was not going to stop me," Marian says.
NOW, as for those red and yellow sauces: "That's my husband's idea and I don't know where he got the idea," Marian says. They were served on burgers at Andy's from the beginning.
Lots of drive-ins have at least a yellow sauce, she says, but "there's something in our recipe that's different from the others."
At Rainbow Drive-In in Kapahulu, a yellow sauce is served on burgers, although it hasn't attracted quite the status of the Andy's/Byron's version.
Harry Iwamura, who along with Jim Gusukuma inherited Rainbow from their father-in-law, says the sauce "came with the drive-in" and has been slathered on since opening day in 1961.
Many restaurants of that vintage have a similar sauce, Iwamura says. "Maybe at the time it was the thing to do."
The Rainbow version is made with mustard, mayonnaise, onions and pickle relish -- "proportions to your taste."
Iwamura respects the legend that is Andy's, by the way. As a Castle High School student, he spent a lot of time at the drive-in.
"We used to buy a lot of french fries at that place, because they were really cheap -- they sold it by the pound. We would all chip in and buy a pound."
At Byron's Drive Inn, manager Margie Pedrina says the famed red and yellow sauces are made by the tub once a week. "One of the ingredients is already 30 pounds."
She sells it for 25 cents in little take-out containers for those who've got to have more.
Reader John Stewart grew up in Kailua with a fondness for Andy's hamburgers. "Long ago I tried to analyze how the sauces were made and have been using my versions for years."
Marian Wong took a look at Stewart's formula and pronounced it "close," but that's all the hinting she'll do.
The recipes that follow are adaptations of Stewart's recipes, after side-by-side tasting with the sauces now served at Byron's. They are quite close. Keep in mind that you're not going to be eating these by the spoonful, they'll be condiments on a burger, so exact duplication is not really an issue.
1/2 small onion
5 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic (see note)
Grate enough onion to make 1 teaspoon. Chop enough of the rest to make 3 tablespoons (about 1/8 inch pieces, but they can be uneven in size).
Combine mayonnaise, mustard, garlic and onions, including juice from grated onion. Chill well. Makes about 3/4 cup.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per 2 tablespoon serving: 90 calories, 9 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrate, 1 g sugar, no fiber or protein.
Note: It's best to use prepared, minced garlic -- the type that comes in a jar or squeeze tube. The milder flavor and smooth consistency merge better in the sauce.
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
Combine ingredients. Chill well.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per 2 tablespoon serving: 35 calories, 330 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrate, 6 g sugar, no fat, cholesterol, fiber or protein.
Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S. Send queries to "By Request," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813. Send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org