CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
After 41 years of business in the same spot in Kaimuki, Kwong On bakery and noodle shop will close next month. "I'm tired, very tired," said William Chin, 75, who will retire with wife and co-owner Chun Tsui Chin. "But I love this place. I'll miss all the customers." CLICK FOR LARGE
Dim sum diner has heart but will close
The Chins are calling it quits after 41 years of running Kwong On
For 41 years the smell of fresh-baked manapua has wafted down the Koko Head end of Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki every morning, from Monday through Saturday.
But those aromas, along with 40-cent pork hash, taro cakes, dollar bags of handmade peanut candy and plate lunches under $5 will soon be memories.
William Chin, 75, and his wife, Chun Tsui, 68, are calling it quits after more than four decades of waking up early mornings to sell manapua, noodles and other dim sum goodies at 3620-A Waialae Ave.
Like so many other neighborhood mom-and-pops over the last year, the Chins have decided to close up shop and retire, without anyone to take over the business.
The store will close in mid-August, and the space vacated by Aug. 31.
"I'm tired, very tired," said William Chin. "But I love this place. I'll miss all the customers."
Chin said most of the regular customers have been told, in person, about the impending closure during their most recent purchase. He estimates there has been a steady stream of at least 200 per day.
When the shop opened in 1966, a godfather named the business for him -- Kwong On -- meaning "wide and open" and "peaceful and safe."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Business was brisk at midmorning yesterday at Kwong On noodle and dim sum shop. Owner William Chin, above left, was helping customer Jeff Marabellas. CLICK FOR LARGE
Monday through Saturday, the shop has been open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., serving up both baked and steamed manapua along with noodles, fried rice, dim sum and plate lunches.
Chow fun has been a top seller, mostly because it's laden with char siu, or barbecued pork.
With roots in Canton, Chin comes from a long line of cooks, including a grandfather who ran a Chinese restaurant near Aala. He credits two close friends, Mr. Lee and Mr. Chan, for teaching him the secrets of making good local-style dim sum.
Most customers are from the neighborhood, although many others come to his shop from around the island. Some even fly in from neighbor islands to buy boxes of manapua to take home.
Many also stop in to grab a bag of Chin's ever-popular peanut candy -- his own recipe -- for $1.75 per bag.
His goal over all these years? To keep the portions generous and the prices low. "People like that," he said.
For those who do not have time to go to Chinatown, the shop stocks a few grocery items for sale, including sesame oil, jars of white cucumber, preserved bean curd and preserved plums.
The Chins have three grown children, one son and two daughters, who have their own professional careers and no interest in carrying on the business. Their son, Bow Mun, is an attorney; daughter Elaine, an engineer; and youngest daughter, Janet, an entrepreneur.
Chin joked that even though they grew up pitching in at the shop, the three don't know much about how to cook dim sum. But it's also hard work, requiring eight to 10 hours a day.
"Dad's whole life has been with the shop," said son Bow Mun Chin. "It's like our fourth sibling. Essentially, we grew up with the store."
Bow Mun Chin confessed he did not know much about making dim sum, since he and his sisters helped mostly at the front end of the shop, taking orders, or in the back, opening crates.
Even though the shop was closed on Sundays, William Chin would still go in to prep and clean, making sure everything was in order for Monday.
Having been there since the mid-'60s, Chin has seen the changes in the Kaimuki neighborhood, its ups and downs. Plenty of businesses have come and gone as the area has gradually become more upscale. Yet it is still one of the few places on Oahu that retains a historic, old-town feel, with predominately independent restaurants, rather than mainland chain outlets.
Parking remains a challenge for customers, he said, and rents have gone up significantly.
The shop has seven full-time workers and two part-time workers. Since it's labor intensive, it's hard to find people to help at the shop.
Lloyd Tark, who works at neighboring Toys N Joys, said he would miss the shop, which was been his regular stop for manapua for the last 10 years.
"It's a shame," he said.
Chin did not say what he would do after retiring, other than maybe take a trip to China and some nice, long walks at Kapiolani Park. Mostly, he said, he just wants to relax.
But he did say he intended to keep making his popular peanut candy.
Restaurant critic and Hawaii Food Tours proprietor Matthew Gray said he is stricken with "taste-bud grief" every time he hears of places like Kwong On closing.
Gray reviewed the restaurant back in 2002, calling it a hole in the wall with hidden pleasures beyond its threshold.
"Kwong On has been a personal favorite of mine for many years, a place I have shared with my mom, sister, friends and loved ones," said Gray. "They made my world a more delicious place, and for that I am thankful."