Sunday, February 17, 2002

The Ho family operates Wally's Garage & Grill. From left to right, Colleen Ho, Nathan Ho, Maydene Ching, Wally Ho, Willette Ho, Timmy Ho, Tracie Maze, Sheldene Maze and Tiffany Maze-Petersen.

At Wally’s Garage,
everyone is family

By Tim Ruel

At Wally Ho's Garage & Grill on Kamehameha Highway in Aiea, everyone is family, even the head mechanic.


Sung Ahn isn't really related to the Ho family, but he has worked as shop manager at Wally's Auto Repair for the past 25 years. He jokes around with family members on a weekday afternoon, noting Wally's is one of the few shops where your car is fixed while you eat.

Wally Ho, 70, started working as a meat cutter in the 1950s for Willy's Market, run by his father Willy Ho on land the family owns across from the McGrew Point naval reservation. Willy was following in the footsteps of his own father, Ho Yee, a second-generation immigrant from China who ran a market in the Pearl City peninsula in the 1930s.

In 1956, the Ho family opened a gas station next door to Willy's Market. It was rebuilt four years later, and now houses Wally's Garage & Grill. Wally runs the operation along with spouse Louise Ho, their six children, and several of their 10 grandchildren. The family also manages a slew of rental properties around Oahu, including the building occupied by Wally's next-door neighbors, Dixie Grill and Players Sportsbar.

The restaurant is the latest experiment for the family. Wally said it started a couple years ago as the brainchild of his youngest daughter Willette Ho, 46.

After more than 40 years of operation, the family closed their Chevron gas station in 1997. Being a gas dealer is not as profitable as it used to be, and many dealers across the state have closed shop in recent years. Willette, looking for work, had a passion to go into the food business, even though she had no formal training in cooking.

The family started small, serving sandwiches and soups to customers of the auto repair shop. It was trial-and-error at first, Willette said, but the food became a hit, word started spreading and customers kept coming back, so the family installed a full kitchen.

Willette said the aim is to serve healthy food, on a higher level than the average plate lunch drive-in. While the restaurant serves the usual local staples -- beef stew, teriyaki chicken and spam musubi -- the menu also includes rack of lamb, prime rib and lasagna made from scratch, depending on what fresh ingredients are available at the market, Willette said. "We don't just do your ordinary stuff," she said.

The restaurant always uses olive oil to cook the fish, which draws a lot of business from workers at Kaiser's Moanalua Medical Center as well as Kapiolani Medical Center at Pali Momi, Wally Ho said.

The biggest part of the Ho's food business is catering and lunch, although the restaurant is also open at 6 a.m. for breakfast during the week.

All six of Wally's children pitch in to help the business, wherever help is needed. "Everyone has their own thing," Willette said, adding, "You cannot give yourself a job title."

Daughter Colleen handles accounting and property management. Son Timmy works in the repair shop. Son-in-law Tommy Maze, married to oldest daughter Sheldene, handles maintenance, while their daughters Donna, Traci and Tiffany help out.

Everyone has a role, Wally said, pulling out a picture of the late Father Kenneth A. Bray, legendary founder of athletics at his alma mater Iolani School. A caption reads: "You are not individuals greedy for individual honor but members of a team eager for team achievement."

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