A double celebration


POSTED: Friday, November 20, 2009

In the face of sluggish crowds and dwindling revenues, it would have been no surprise if Chai Chaowasaree decided to play down the 10th anniversary of his namesake Aloha Tower restaurant and the 20th anniversary of Singha Thai in Waikiki.

But that's not how Chaowasaree thinks. Instead of taking the safe route, the award-winning chef reached out to his colleagues and organized an outdoor tasting dinner that will feature some of the best food and live entertainment available in Honolulu.

“;At first, I didn't know if we were going to do it,”; he explained on Monday at Chai's Island Bistro. “;But when I sent the first e-mail out, everybody responded. In fact, now we have too many chefs.”;

The Beach House's Rodney Uyehara, 3660 on the Rise's Russell Siu, Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas' Hiroshi Fukui, the Poke Stop's Elmer Guzman and Ola Restaurant's Fred DeAngelo are among the dozen featured chefs scheduled to participate in tonight's big event. Despite the $90 advertised ticket price, Chaowasaree is adamant that guests will get their money's worth while chowing down at all the different tasting stations.

“;We just want to have a celebration (and) we've invited a lot of people,”; he said. “;We're not here to make money, but we can't afford to give it away. ($90) is a good deal, and it includes the beer, wine and entertainment.”;




'Chef Chai Chaowasaree Presents: An Evening Under the Stars'
        Chai's Island Bistro's 10th and Singha Thai Cuisine's 20th anniversary celebration

» Where: Events at the Tower, Aloha Tower Marketplace
        » When: 6 to 9 p.m. today
        » Cost: $90 general admission, $1,000 reserved seating (table of 10), $1,500 VIP seating (table of 10)
        » Info: 585-0011 or www.chaisislandbistro.com


Chaowasaree's sister, Joy Saetung, has always run the day-to-day operations at Singha Thai; he maintains an advisory role at that restaurant while overseeing what happens at Chai's Island Bistro. Chai's opened in 1999, replacing Trilussa Trattoria Pizzeria at the entrance to Aloha Tower Marketplace. Of all its neighbors back then, only Gordon Biersch and Hooters remain open today.

Still, some of the same issues that bothered Chaowasaree when he first opened his doors continue to affect him.

“;When we first signed the lease 10 years ago, they said they'd build a parking lot, and 10 years down the road, it's exactly the same,”; he said. “;But they take good care of us, (and) we're fortunate that we've been here long enough where people know who we are.

“;We're still in the black, but you know, we don't make the same money like we did and can't spend like we used to.”;

One of the biggest draws at Chai's has always been live entertainment. Even when times are tough, Chaowasaree refuses to cut back on the amount of music he offers or the quality of musicians he hires. HAPA, the Brothers Cazimero and Jerry Santos were among the first acts to perform, and continue to make regular appearances a decade later.

Chai's also hosts regular nightclub-style parties, although their frequency has diminished somewhat due to the faltering economy. Local photographer Russell Tanoue has enjoyed a successful partnership with Chaowasaree over the years, and he'll celebrate his 20th anniversary of taking pictures in Honolulu with a party of his own at Chai's tonight at 11 p.m.

“;We see each other all the time, so I asked him if he wanted to do it with me,”; Chaowasaree explained. “;Russell always does a good job.”;

Besides running his restaurant, the 48-year-old has also hosted his own TV cooking show since 2003. Earlier this year, he released a cookbook to rave reviews. Throw in a steady amount of catering and special events business, and Chaowasaree's schedule leaves him little time for activities outside of work.

“;This is my family—my restaurants,”; he said. “;And I enjoy working.”;