Business Monday: Louis Pauole goes from dishwasher to chef to owner of Miyo’s in Hilo
When Louis Pauole applied for a job at the popular restaurant Miyo’s in Hilo, he had a culinary degree from The Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Maryland and years of experience as a chef on a cruise ship that traveled the Mediterranean.
But Miyo, the elderly Japanese namesake owner of the restaurant who goes by one name, told Pauole: “You wash dishes.”
She said he had to start where all good underdogs do — at the bottom.
“I washed dishes for three months before I was told I could wait tables,” he said. Eventually he became the head chef.
Now, Miyo is retired and Pauole, 47, is the owner of Miyo’s Restaurant and Izakaya Miyo, an upscale omakase (chef’s choice) eatery he opened next door during the COVID-19 pandemic to subsidize Miyo’s Restaurant, whose clientele was older and did not want to risk eating out.
And, he’s in the process of opening another new restaurant, this time in Kona.
He said he had offers to bring his restaurant to hotels, but turned them down because he wants locals to be a big part of his clientele.
But with an investor, he couldnʻt pass on a location on Aliʻi Drive that he thinks will be perfect: across from the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel and the harbor, and next to the current restaurants of the Big Kahuna and Spinners. It’s a two-year project that involves knocking down buildings to create a courtyard, building a new parking lot and renovating the existing restaurant, he said.
The O’ahu native has never been afraid of hard work, having worked his way through life as a teenager helping his grandfather with his catering business, and as an adult making extra money as a professional kickboxer.
His wife, Felisha, said his life experiences is where he gets his drive.
“The story I hear from the family is that as a little guy, he kind of got picked on,” she said. “There’d be big Hawaiian parties and all the family came and his Aunt Millie and grandfather would take him in the kitchen and that’s how it came to be. He would cook for the entire party.”
So when times were tough during the pandemic — which struck in March 2020 just after he took over ownership in 2019 — he had to figure out how to keep it afloat. Miyo’s lost most of its in-person business and was mainly serving take-out.
That’s when Pauole came up with the idea of Izakaya Miyo, which catered to a small number of high-end clientele and was completely omakase, meaning Pauole chose the menu each night for all 12 customers. He cooked it in front of them, explaining what he was doing and where the fish and local ingredients, many of them hard-to-come-by, came from.
“They ate what I made them, no questions asked,” he said.
Felisha Pauole said when they started Izayaka, her husband would wake her up in the middle of the night saying he dreamt of a dish and tell her about it.
“I’d say: ‘Write it down and we’ll talk about it when we wake up,'” she said with a laugh. “How he thinks of these things I don’t know. He’s a chef in the sense that he will spend as much time as he needs to on a recipe until he perfects it.”
Like the time, she said, that he was attempting to create a Japanese sandwich.
“He spent an entire month at home trying to perfect a hamburger bun and I kid you not my kitchen was full of bread,” she said. “There was bread all over the counter, all over the kitchen and dining room because he is such a perfectionist that with each loaf he would find something to improve on. So for a couple weeks we had bread everywhere.”
Each night Izakaya Miyo was open, 12 people paid $99 per person, with $100-plus bottles of sake, wine and other items pushing the average price to about $300 each, he said.
“It became a hit. I was booked for two years straight,” Pauole said.
With that success, he was able to keep Miyo’s Restaurant — Hilo’s well-known, homestyle-Japanese restaurant that opened in 1987 — from going under.
“The thing I learned from her [Miyo] was how to be detail-oriented,” he said. “If it’s not fresh, throw it out.”
When the pandemic subsided, he decided it was a good time to renovate and add a full liquor license. It became Miyo’s Restaurant & Izakya Bar.
On the menu are katsus, udon and soba dishes, tempura and salads. Some dishes worth exploring include the $16.50 Oyako-Don, which comes with chicken, Chinese cabbage, onions, topped with an egg and served over rice. Or the $24.50 Ahi-Donburi, which comes with tempura breaded fresh ahi, dipped in Miyo’s special sauce and served over rice.
Louis Pauole says he continues to try to perfect the menu since taking over as owner. Both he and his wife say it’s thanks to the original owner’s reputation of being a staple in the community, Miyo’s successfully made it through the pandemic.
“It’s just one of those restaurants that everyone knows about and it’s the first place people go to when the come to the island,” Felisha Pauole said. “There’s people who have grown up in the restaurant.”
From children who started eating out with their parents who now are grown and taking their elderly parents there to eat, to brides going out to eat in their wedding dresses to have a meal, she said it’s a unique place on the island because it’s a part of Hilo’s tight knit community.
“It’s one of those places people of think of when they think of a special memory,” she said.
Mallion Schmallion said she was going out to eat there for years before it moved in 2012 to its current location at the Manono Street Marketplace.
“I remember we’d walk upstairs and everything was wood and there was a guitarist who would come some nights to play mellow music while you ate and stared out at the ponds,” she said.
“Tempura Don bowl was my jam,” Schmallion said. “It was the first place I’d ever been like that and it felt like what I imagined going to Japan would be like.”
Dawn Hurwitz remembers the old Miyo’s too.
“The food couldn’t be beat. I knew it would be good because the place was packed, and not with tourists. Prices in those days were generous too, $7.95 for an entire shrimp tempura dinner, complete with Miso Soup and pickles. Miyo was often behind the wok, her husband taking our order. It was certainly the most romantic restaurant in Hilo,” she said.
And now Pauole says he’s inviting people to make more memories under his ownership and at his new restaurant in Kona.
He said it will build off Miyo’s connect but provide more of an elevated experience featuring fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
“Really, Kona needs it,” he said.
The menu will feature high-end wine and cocktails in an à la carte style, he said.
“People are going more towards fresh local food, and that’s what we’re going to give them,” he said. “You can taste the difference between eating something frozen, versus eating something fresh from the island. It connects people here.”
Miyo’s restaurant is at 564 Hinano St. in Hilo. Learn more here.
The restaurant does not yet have a name, but will bring the same flavor and style from the East side of the island that so many love and enjoy and serve visitors in the tourist area.