Business

Restaurant Kenichi – One Man’s Dreams of Ramen Made Real

September 21, 2013, 5:26 PM HST
* Updated September 23, 12:41 PM
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After listening to Mike Inouye talk about noodles, it becomes obvious the restaurant he now runs existed in his mind long before he sold his first bowl of ramen.

Recently opened on Kilauea Avenue, “Restaurant Kenichi” serves as both a love letter to Inouye’s past, and an outlet for his passion, home-cooked noodle soups.

A one-time veteran of Oahu’s Side Street Inn, Inouye serves up a tribute to his alma mater’s renowned pork chops, insisting “there’s really no secret to them. The best thing about pork chops is when someone else does the cooking!”

Inouye also pays homage to Kenichis predecessor, Kay’s Lunch Center. “Before I took over, Mrs. Okuda was kind enough to show me some of her techniques and recipes. We’ve kept the bar-b-que beef and Korean chicken, which are real popular.”

But while the aforementioned dishes have proven track records, Inouye seems most proud of his ramen. On Japanese noodle soups, Kenichi’s owner exudes enthusiasm, exclaiming “I’m a life-long fanatic.”

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Inouye is attempting to fire up Big Island resident’s interest in the phenomenon, long-popular on Oahu and now gaining traction on the US mainland. While many similar restaurants rely on pre-made seasoning mixes for their dashi (broth), Inouye is clear to state that his dishes employ the use of local ingredients, including island-caught fish for his own version of dashi.

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Explaining the origin of his recipes, Inouye states, “I’m really just a home cook that wanted to share my food with everybody. This dashi doesn’t come from any specific prefecture in Japan. This is what I made for family and friends.”

At Restaurant Kenichi, Inouye serves various types of miso ramen, in addition to a special variety made from boiled pork bones. “The pork broth takes 24-30 hours to make” he says, quipping, “I ain’t giving away the recipe!”

Restaurant Kenichi owner Mike Inouye chats with customers after the lunch rush. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Restaurant Kenichi owner Mike Inouye chats with customers after the lunch rush. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Inouye explains that one of his most critical challenges prior to opening the restaurant was finding a ramen noodle that would work as a proper pairing for his soup broths.

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He credits Oahu manufacturer Sun Noodle as providing both a quality product and helpful advice on opening a ramen-focused eatery, stating, “I really have to thank Mr. Oki over there… he has cornered the market on ramen noodles, and he really helped me out by finding the right boilers and other things.”

Apart from its ample dining space, the restaurant also has a banquet room capable of seating up to 60 people, available by request. Catering services are also available.

Restaurant Kenichi is located at 684 Kilauea Avenue, Hilo.

Prices typically range from $7-12.

Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Phone: (808)-969-1776.

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