Saimin Stories

Boulevard SaiminToday my coworkers and I headed into Kalihi to eat lunch at Boulevard Saimin. This mom-and-pop eatery has been around since 1956, and is a local institution. But when we arrived, there were signs announcing that the restaurant was changing its name to Dillingham Saimin. And on the door, a sign that declared, “We’re Not Moving!

We asked our server what was up. She sighed.

Apparently there was some kind of falling out within the family. And Joan Watanabe, granddaughter of founder Kazuko Tanaka, is taking the family recipes and half the staff to open a new restaurant in Iwilei. Tanaka Saimin will have more than twice the space in the renovated former Weyerhaeuser plant on Nimitz Highway.

Meanwhile, the original location is now called Dillingham Saimin. And our server assured us that the food will still be the same… except for the sushi, as apparently their sushi guru is among the employees going to the new restaurant.

As for the “We’re Not Moving!” signs? Twitter user DKmomus noted that a May 23 column by business columnist Erika Engle characterized the new restaurant on Nimitz as an outright relocation. “Incoming tenant Boulevard Saimin will open with a new name,” Engle writes, and quotes Watanabe as saying, “We always wanted to move.”

Boulevard Saimin

The employees sticking with the Kalihi restaurant obviously disagree.

A check of state business registration records shows that Joan Watanabe filed papers to form Tanaka Saimin on May 7, 2010. And just this past Monday, Boulevard Saimin officially made changes to its management.

Since neither the original nor new restaurant seems to be keeping the Boulevard Saimin name, it looks like Boulevard Saimin is no more, after more than half a century of business. But as my friend Mitchell noted, the upside is that we’ll hopefully have two great local restaurants instead of just one.

Boulevard Saimin

I’m definitely eager to visit Tanaka Saimin, as they’ll be among the first tenants to open in the former Weyerhaeuser plant. The structure is a Honolulu landmark that I remember for its smell as much as anything else, and it had sat empty for years. The owners of the Ba-Le food company plunked down $20 million for it last year, and have grand plans to turn it into a thriving center for shops and restaurants.

Here’s how the building used to look, captured by Google Street View:

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8 Responses

  1. Wow! I’ve been so busy, I didn’t notice. :(
    I was just at Sizzlers the other night. It’s a surely a sad yet happy time. I’ll miss the name that’s foa shua.

    Goodbye Boulevard Saimin.
    Mahalo foa da many years of onolicious kaukau!!

    Auntie Pupule

  2. melanie says:

    great article ! thanks for the information !

  3. KoreAmBear says:

    Great that Ba Le is reinvesting in Honolulu like that and close to town. It will also be great to see that Lowe’s built. Good for the Iwilei area. Too bad the Regal Dole Cannery theaters may be more crowded. It’s such a great place to watch a movie right now because the crowds are much less than at Ward Consolidated.

  4. Alex Cortez says:

    All in all, competition is healthy even if it came at the expense of family issues causing the splintering. Looking forward to trying out the new location on my next trip to Oahu.

  5. Pomai says:

    Very, very interesting. I really thought they were simply going to move shop entirely, and keep the Boulevard Saimin name. Then again, being they’re no longer on a Boulevard, wouldn’t they be better off naming it ‘Alakawa Saimin’ or ‘Highway Saimin’. Actually ‘Tanaka Saimin’ is kinda’ catchy, as it gives it a personal identity.

    Asahi Grill seems to be doing a good job serving the recipes from their sister restaurant, Kapiolani Coffee Shop, and I’m sure Tanaka Saimin will do well in reflecting the onolicious food at Boulevard Saimin.

  6. SaiminFan says:

    Hi, guys. Found the following press release. Boulevard Saimin is “splitting” into 2 restaurants, each run by a granddaughter of the founder!

    “Great saimin at Boulevard Saimin has been a local tradition since Toshiaki Tanaka and his mother, Kazuko, first opened its doors in 1956. Now, Toshiaki’s daughters, Lynn Yagi and Joan Watanabe, shall continue that tradition by featuring dishes made from Boulevard Saimin recipes at their separate restaurants. Joan’s restaurant, “Tanaka Saimin” will be opening soon on Nimitz Highway (at the former Weyerhaeuser box plant), and Lynn’s restaurant, “Dillingham Saimin,” will continue operating at the existing Boulevard Saimin location on Dillingham Boulevard. The name “Boulevard Saimin” will retire to let the new generation continue its tradition of great saimin.”

  7. Aloha Tony says:

    i should never read posts like this late at night. Now I’m hungry and it’s way too late to get food!

  8. Bonnie says:

    Glad to find this. I was looking for Boulevard this summer when I ended up staying in Waikiki & therefore not convenient to my usual standys in Aiea and Waimalu. I had never actually gone to Boulevard, had just heard that it was good. I think I went around the block six times before I decided that Dillingham actually had to be it. Of course I then saw the name change sign on the door. It is interesting to find out the backstory. Sad to read about family squabbles but I like your friend Mitchell’s take. Here’s to both restaurants thriving.

    BTW, I linked to this in the post I ended up writing that sent me looking for info on Boulevard.

    http://frogma.blogspot.com/2010/12/if-tillers-went-to-hawaii-they-could.html

    Thanks again!

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