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Restaurateur added local flavors to world's menus


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POSTED: Tuesday, January 27, 2009

As a single mom, Sueko Miyagi Oh Young needed to support her children. She chose a difficult means: running restaurants.

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She opened three places that son Clayton Oh Young describes as “;real small, hole-in-the-wall cafes,”; then founded the restaurant that would be her legacy: Ono Hawaiian Foods in Kapahulu.

Oh Young died Jan. 11 at age 94.

Over its 48 years, her restaurant has been recognized by the national Zagat guides and Honolulu Magazine's Hale Aina Awards for its down-home, traditional Hawaiian food.

It took a couple of years for the business to grow, her son recalled. “;We would have one customer come in, then came two, the two became four, then slowly by slowly it prospered.”;

Through it all his mother worked constantly. “;When she was young, she worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week. She never did complain,”; he said.

“;Of course, work was her life. I remember her telling me she started work at Dole Cannery when she was 14. She was underage. She had to lie about her age.”;

Oh Young was born in Makaweli, Kauai, in 1914. She spent part of her childhood on Okinawa with her six brothers and sisters.

Three of them—Kiyomatsu Keiichi, Matsue and Haruko—remained in Okinawa and died before her. Another brother, Robert, died in Hawaii. She also lost two children, George “;Kuni”; Shimabukuro and Sylvia “;Keiko”; Youn.

She was married twice, to Takeichi Shimabukuro and Charles Oh Young.

Both marriages ended in divorce.

Oh Young retired when she reached her late 70s, Clayton Oh Young said. “;The kids told her, 'It's time to rest, Mom. Go see the world.'”;

And that she did, discovering a love of travel in trips to Japan, China, Okinawa and even Peru.

Sueko Oh Young is survived by sons Toyo Shimabukuro and Clayton Oh Young, hanai daughters Vivian Lee and Betty Sakamoto, brother Seiichi Miyagi, sister Tenny Craft, 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 14 at Diamond Head Mortuary, with visitation at 10 a.m. Inurnment will follow at 2:15 p.m.