Venerable isle institution shuts down
I was really depressed to hear about the shutdown. I mean, it's sad when a venerable island institution that has served thousands and thousands of people for so long calls it quits. It makes you angry. It makes you want to scream and punch someone smaller than yourself.
But Ernie Choy calmed me down. "Charley," he said, "It was time. It is not a bad thing."
Ernie Choy, you might be surprised to learn, has nothing to do with Aloha Airlines, that "other" venerable island institution sadly in the midst of closure after many years of great service to Hawaii.
No, the venerable island institution shutting down we are talking about here is the Deli restaurant, run by Ernie Choy and his family at the end of Heeia Kea Pier for the past 27 years.
Windward Oahu boaters, fishermen, wayward tourists and locals are now without Auntie Mimi's Beef Stew Special. The Deli restaurant closed its counter shutters on Sunday after serving a long line of morose customers who have called the weathered little plate lunch eatery on the very edge of Kaneohe Bay home.
WHEN I HEARD the restaurant was closing, I worried that -- like Aloha Airlines -- it had been put out of business by an interloping price-cutting competitor, like Go-Burgers! Or Go-Spam-and-Eggs-With-Side-of-Fried-Rice! But no, Ernie assured me the closure was voluntary.
"My cooks are tired, the counter help is tired ... we're all tired," he said.
And by cooks and counter help, he means his sisters, cousins, in-laws, out-laws and even his 85-year-old mother, Popo.
For the restaurant was truly a family affair going back to when it was launched in Waikiki as Hawaii's only kosher Jewish deli. (Legend has it that Popo had a "fling" with one of the many Hollywood visitors -- OK, it was Redd Foxx -- to the Chinese-run Jewish restaurant.)
Ernie, probably the tallest Chinese man you'll find this side of NBA center Yao Ming (and someone I have been lucky enough to call a friend for years) says the restaurant had a good run, but it's time to give the family a break.
He said the adjoining tackle shop, minimart and gas station will remain open, so boaters, fishermen and wayward tourists are lucky there.
The picnic benches under the Deli's roof eaves still will be a gathering place for early morning coffee drinkers and tellers of tall fish tales. Ernie's mom and sisters Mimi and Sharon will still help out in the store.
And who knows what the future holds? Ernie said many offers are coming in regarding a restaurant in some new form. Venerable island institutions have a way of making comebacks in Hawaii.
If you don't believe it, consider that Ernie will soon be stocking the store's beverage coolers with Primo beer. If Primo can make a comeback, why not Aloha Airlines and a legendary little restaurant at the end of a Windward Oahu pier?
Buy Charles Memminger's hilarious new book, "Hey, Waiter, There's An Umbrella In My Drink!" at island book stores or online
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