Business

Cousins Seafood and Bento Making a Splash

August 15, 2012, 4:07 PM HST
* Updated August 16, 8:21 AM
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Ken Arakawa’s retirement plans are unconventional.

After spending 21 years distributing seafood on Oahu, Arakawa decided to leave the hustle and bustle of the city, retiring to the Big Island to be closer to his family.

Less than three years later, a restless Arakawa purchased the former Soontarees Deli on Lanikaula Street. After five months of renovations and permitting, “Cousins Seafood and Bento” opened its doors.

“Cousins” owner Ken Arakawa and cousin Karen. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Now working 15-hour days, Arakawa and his cousin Karen oversee a staff of 11 people, cleaning fish and prepping vegetables in a relatively snug 600-square-foot kitchen. Stacking bentos for a phone order, a tired but smiling Arakawa describes a “slamming” first two months of business, and expresses hopes that the start of classes at the nearby University of Hawaii at Hilo will further broaden their customer base.

Fresh seafood is the restaurant’s focus, and prices are competitive. Arakawa indicates he is intent on keeping costs low, relying on brisk sales to maximize revenue. To source the high volume of fish and shrimp he uses, Arakawa draws heavily on his contacts and experience in the seafood industry.

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Arakawa acknowledges that managing expenses amid a cyclical fish market will prove to be his greatest challenge, stating “whenever you deal with a commodity like this, you gotta prepare for the dry season.” Arakawa identifies the period of November through March as the most challenging time to find fresh fish in the islands.

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To avoid running out of product, Arakawa locks in his prices while the market is saturated, working with processors on Oahu to flash-freeze whatever fish he can before catch volumes start to drop. “With seafood, you have to be constantly thinking ahead,” he comments.

Cousins “Garlic Chicken” is a customer favorite. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

When asked who his target customers are, Arakawa was quick to reply “locals!” although he defines the term loosely, happily noting the broad spectrum of clients walking through the door. With limited parking available, advanced phone orders are encouraged.

Moving forward, Arakawa is focused on taking his products straight to his customers. Free delivery is currently available between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. with a minimum order of five entrees or bentos. “That’s something we gonna push big-time,” says Arakawa, who is confident there is a large market for direct-to-client lunch service.

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Popular products include pan-seared ahi and salmon steaks, garlic chicken, and garlic shrimp with lemon-butter and sherry. Bentos also move quickly, and are available in the morning until “sell out.”

Cousins Seafood and Bento is located at 14 Lanikaula St., Hilo

Cousins Seafood and Bento on Lanikaula Street, near the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Prices range from $4.50 for a pan-seared ahi sandwich, to $10.50 for a pan-seared Atlantic salmon plate with pickled vegetables, rice and two salads. Daily specials are available. Breakfast is from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Current hours of operation are 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Closed on Sundays. (808) 969-9900

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