Restaurateur made waffle dogs famous


POSTED: Thursday, August 13, 2009

Agnes Tsugiyo Asato, 95, co-founder of a family business that included the landmark KC Drive Inn and Wisteria restaurant, died July 30 in a private care home.

She and her husband, Jiro, bought the island's first drive-in, originally at Kalakaua and Ala Wai, in 1934 and made famous its unique fast-food specialty, waffle hot dogs. She worked in the restaurant into her 70s.

“;She was a smart businesswoman and she kept us together,”; said her son, Roy Asato. “;She was chairwoman of the board of the company and made wise property investments.”; He said the children grew up helping in the business and, after his father died in 1960, all five children joined her. “;We all came to pitch in.”;

She described working long hours at the Waikiki drive-in that survived through the Depression and thrived during and after World War II in a 1991 interview in Pacific Business News: “;We used to make all our own root beer with our own syrup. We used to chop our own french fries, grind our own ice, buy our pickles by the barrel and grind our own hamburger.”; The company expanded to Mr. Waffle stands in Kailua and Waipahu and a snackshop in the former Holiday Mart and purchased Wisteria in the early 1970s.

Hard work had its rewards, said Roy Asato. “;She had a good life. She traveled all around the world with my dad and then with friends ... to Canada, Europe, Japan, Africa, South America. When that got harder for her, she went to Las Vegas with the family a lot, at least three times a year. She kept the family together.”; His mother was a golfer, enjoyed karaoke and was active in women's groups until her health failed in recent years.

The five Asato children continued to run the family eatery empire until 2005. They closed Wisteria in 2004, and in 2005 closed the KC after 70 years in operation, in its later years as a Kapahulu coffee shop.

She was born in Waialua.

She is survived by sons James and Roy; daughters Elsie and Helen Asato and Mildred Oku; sister Norma M. Tamashiro; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Hosoi Garden Mortuary. Friends may call after 4 p.m. The family requests no flowers and aloha attire.