Chowder House at Ward closing after 34 years


POSTED: Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Chowder House, part of the restaurant dynasty established by Marian Wong and husband Andy in the 1950s, will close Sept. 20 after 34 years in business.

Marian Wong could not be reached, as she was preparing to send a granddaughter off to the mainland for college, an employee said. Her husband died of cancer in 1985.

Employees were informed of the impending closure Saturday, and while no official employee count was available, some are long-timers.

Bartender Terry Rubasch has worked there for 30 years. Mary Jo Cabebe has worked there for 17 years, and her son Anthony for seven.

Employees referred questions to a new company executive, but she also could not be reached.

A note tucked into the menus tells customers the restaurant will close its doors Sept. 20 and that “;we appreciate your patronage throughout our 34 years. It's been a good run,”; the note says, before signing off with a “;mahalo.”;

The news sent sad groans into the newsroom air as co-workers shared why the restaurant occupies a special place in their hearts.

For instance, one said she and her husband would go there when they were dating, as it was one of few restaurants they could afford that had “;good food.”;

The news is also likely to generate a sigh of bittersweet reminiscence at the White House, as a sign at the restaurant proudly states that Barack Obama dined there as a U.S. senator and in his younger years as well.

Your columnist had her first-ever hush puppies there, treating her then-much-shorter-than-her brood to a special lunch that would not be eaten under golden arches.

“;It is one of our longtime favorites,”; said Diane Bruce, Ward Centers marketing director.

Its lease is ending “;and they decided not to continue,”; she said.

The Chowder House opened in 1975, the same year as Ward Warehouse.

It occupies about 2,700 square feet on the ground floor under WeePlay & Learn, an interactive children's center operating where Orson's, a Chowder House sister-restaurant, fed customers until about 1997.

That year, the restaurants' parent company, Pacific Food Services Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed Orson's as well as Chinese Chuck Wagon at Ward Farmer's Market.

Byron's Drive Inn near the airport and the Chowder House are the two remaining restaurants in a one-time empire that started construction the year after the Wongs married, in 1953.

Their first spot was Leon's Tavern in Kailua, opened in 1954. Kui Lee would sing there, Marian Wong told the Star-Bulletin in 2005.

Andy's Drive Inn opened next and became a Kailua institution. Others included Byron II Steakhouse and Fishmonger's Wife at Ala Moana Center, and Andrew's, first at Ward Centre and then at Executive Centre.

The Drive Inns' red and yellow sauces spawned reader requests for recipes, which Marian will not part with as long as they are making money.

On the net:

» Pacific Food BK story
» Andy's legacy
» Andy's to close
» Feature story on Andy's closing night