Filipino comfort food restaurant expanding


POSTED: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Max's of Manila is expanding to Iwilei, after the Philippine-based chain established its first Hawaii restaurant in March 2006.

The opening is “;planned for Christmas or New Year's,”; said Maly San Luis, president of Honolulu-based Asian Restaurant Group Inc., the corporate name under which the Iwilei Max's will operate. The Waipahu store is under Philippine Restaurant Group Inc., and she is vice president of that company.

The new outlet is at 801 Dillingham Blvd., facing the Iwilei Costco parking lot. Construction is under way on the 5,500-square-foot restaurant that would have been smaller, but San Luis secured a portion of the adjacent space vacated by USA Fitness, “;so we got additional space from them,”; she said.

Max's was established in Quezon City in the Philippines in 1945 when Maximo Gimenez, a Stanford-educated Filipino teacher, opened a cafe with encouragement from friends who were American soldiers.

A special recipe and preparation for whole fried chickens devised by Max's sister Ruby became the restaurant's signature dish and is still offered alongside many traditional Filipino dishes such as lumpiang ubod — an egg roll filled with julienne-cut heart of palm, pork, shrimp, crab meat and vegetables — as well as crispy pata, simmered pork knuckles that are deep-fried to create a crispy coating. Yes, the restaurant also serves dinuguan, which the restaurant describes as rich meat stew. The words “;pig blood”; do not appear on the menu.

Hawaii's first Max's, in the Waipahu Shopping Plaza, hosted a birthday party in its private room its first night open to the public. It is the only restaurant chain your columnist has covered that uses the word “;baptismal”; in suggesting occasions for which to book a private room.

Asked how the Waipahu location was doing, San Luis said, “;We feel very blessed. With all that's going on, we're OK.”; The restaurant has not had to lay off any employees and has closely watched costs “;hoping we can get through this.”;

Hiring of “;just under 50”; employees will begin next month, and some of her Waipahu crew members are likely to help with the Iwilei opening. New hires will get hands-on training at the Waipahu store — an advantage her opening crew did not have three years ago.

The plan was to open a second location sooner than this, but given difficulties in finding the right location, permitting, “;a little bit of everything”; and, oh yeah, the tanking of the economy, expansion has taken this long to come to fruition, San Luis said.

The neighbor islands are the next goal, “;after we cross this hurdle first,”; she said. “;I hope our timing is OK. I'm a little nervous ... but we're optimistic.”;


Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).