Everybody Knows About Waipouli

(from left) Mina Kambayashi, cook Sonny Alfonso and Yoshiko Shiroma

Chances are you already know about Waipouli Restaurant and Deli. After all, it’s been on Kaua’i for 33 years.

“We have been around since 1977. Everybody knows who we are,” says Sashiko Ikehara, who owns and operates the deli with her sister and daughter.

“We wanted a business together, so we started the Waipouli Deli,” says Yoshiko Shiroma, who immigrated to Kaua’i from Okinawa in 1964. In 1971, sister Sashiko joined her with 2-year-old daughter, Mina Kambayashi, in tow.

Tucked inside Kapa’a’s Foodland Shopping Center, the unassuming restaurant with its bright-pink sign declaring “Home Cooking” has been feeding locals for decades.

“We have a lot of long-time customers,” Ikehara says. “We moved to this location in 1981 and they followed us.”

Inside, the modest and clean diner is quietly busy. Kambayashi works with the customers while Sonny Alfonso cooks. Mama and auntie oversee it all. “For a successful business you have to know everything from corner to corner,” Ikehara says as she points from the front to the back. “I sit here, but I know what is going on back there.”

Oriental Platter with a side of fried rice

Over the years, the deli has survived the disastrous effects of the economy and Hurricane Iniki. “We fed the construction workers and electricians because they helped us, you know?” recalls Shiroma of the hurricane aftermatch.

“Everybody came by, yeah?” Ikehara adds.

“We had a gas stove so we could cook, but we had to go get the water. It was hard,” Auntie Yoshiko says softly.

“The economy is affecting us,” Kambayashi interjects.

“Now that it’s slower, I opened extra hours so I can keep my people,” Ikehara says with an enterprising gleam in her eye. “The owners are working for the workers, otherwise you lose good workers.”

As my husband Dan and I wait for our order, the “Kekaha Seniors” stream into the deli, leaving laughter in their wake. “I have been coming here for 30 years,” say Julie Lopez, who lives on the West side. She and her friends are in Kapa’a for the day. “Today we went to ARC for our outreach program,” says Lola Cruz before they take their rice bowls outside to eat.

‘Kekaha Seniors’ (from left) Flora Moreno, Sofia Castro, Lola Cruz and Julie Lopez are longtime customers

“The rice bowls are popular,” Kambayashi says of the bargain meal brimming with chicken, long rice and vegetables. “Everybody comes for the rice bowl, especially because of the economy,” Ikehara says with a magnetic smile. “For $4.99 you get a lot of food.”

Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, the lengthy menu has something for everyone. Breakfast specials include pancakes ($1.99 to $8.99), omelets ($8.59 to $10.99), tonkatsu with eggs ($9.99) and homemade corned beef hash ($8.99), with gravy, two eggs and rice.

“This is my recipe, Japanese style,” Ikehara says of the fried corned beef hash patties that were inspired by a Japanese cooking show. “Everybody like these.”

“Everything is our own recipe,” Ikehara adds of the menu solely created by the sisters. “My sister makes the lau lau. She’s a smart cook, she makes good things.”

The Oriental Platter ($11.99) is bursting with fried chicken cutlets and gravy, shrimp tempura, barbecue steak and fried noodles.

“Everybody likes my noodles because they’re not soggy,” Ikehara says. “And I buy them fresh from Honolulu.”

Chicken Hekka Rice Bowl is one of 19 rice bowl combos made with long rice

“We are nice to our customers,” Ikehara informs me when I ask why the restaurant has lasted so long.

“We try to make everybody happy,” Kambayashi agrees, adding, “we are friendly, we smile, we have good prices and we have good food.”

“Once you eat here, you’ll always come back,” my husband Dan tells Ikehara. “I’ll definitely be back!”

She smiles and nods her head, confident that her food, service and prices speak for themselves.

Waipouli Restaurant and Deli

4-831 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa’a

822-9311 Open 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; Sunday and Monday, breakfast and lunch only.

aloha.mana.marta@hawaiiantel.net

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