Old favorites being served up at Cupies

New owners bring back ‘Cupie’ along with menu items

Kahu Laki Kaahumanu blows a pu, or conch shell, during Saturday’s blessing at Cupies restaurant. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Maui residents can once again get their breaded teriyaki fix at Cupies Maui.

The eatery next to Kahului Public Library held its grand opening blessing Saturday. In attendance were original Cupies owner Kiyohiko “Cupie” Yoshizawa and his family. He founded the drive-in in 1964.

Cupies Maui has been open since April, operating only in the late afternoon and evening hours. In May it expanded into its regular hours, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

It was only weeks ago that the restaurant added Cupies famous breaded teriyaki, in which the teriyaki is dipped into flour and fried on a grill.

It took a while for Cupies Maui owner and former cook Ronald Kalani Daniels to perfect the technique.

“Cupie” Yoshizawa raises his arm Saturday morning after cutting a grand opening ribbon for the new version of Cupies restaurant on Kamehameha Avenue in Kahului. Also pictured are current owner Ron Kalani Daniels (from right), Mayor Alan Arakawa, Jenny Daniels and Emma Mennel. Cupie Yoshizawa started the restaurant in 1962 with his wife, Yaeko. They ran it for two years as an A&W before Yaeko suggested a change. Along with a menu switch, it was renamed Cupies. “It’s something we wanted to bring back to Maui, bring back the tradition,” Ron Daniels said. The restaurant gave free sodas to customers through the day.

“We started experimenting in January, and look, it’s five months later and we got it done. We do have it,” Daniels said on Monday.

Daniels was told by the Yoshizawa family and old employees, to ” ‘just put um in the flour and throw um on’ “ to the grill.

“We do that, but it didn’t come out the same,” Daniels said.

Cupie Yoshizawa’s son, Guy, who ran the original restaurant, said that maybe Daniels didn’t put enough oil on the meat. He said that during the old days people were not as health conscious as now, so the grease was where it was at.

Daniels has hired a former Cupies cook, Felisa Kuhia, who also remembers recipes and techniques from the old restaurant. The chef is Robert “Bob” Cambra, who has worked in many high-end restaurants on Maui and was raised on Papa Avenue near the old Cupies.

The restaurant now has 34 employees and is still looking for a dishwasher, cashier and attendant.

Daniels’ wife, Emma Mennel, and his sister, Jenny Daniels, said hot sellers are cheeseburgers and fat crinkle-cut fries that come with a mayonnaise and mustard mix similar to that of the old Treats and Sweets. Other top grinds are shrimp omelet, beef teriyaki and chop steak.

Friday laulau specials sell out fast, but the restaurant does leave some laulau to be sold during the evening hours.

Besides the daily special, all menu items are made when ordered.

Mennel and Jenny Daniels say prices are reasonable. For instance, the breaded teriyaki plate, which comes with two scoops of rice and corn or macaroni salad, is $11.50. Burgers are around $3 each.

Jenny Daniels admitted the prices were cheap. “We are here to really be part of the community, we want to be affordable,” she said.

Cupies Maui also has soft serve ice cream and makes floats with root beer or Coke.

The owners continue to work on expanding their menu and on Monday added a vegetable omelet, Ronald Kalani Daniels said.

He hopes the Cupies-style fried chicken, broasted in a pressure cooker, will also soon be added. The machine has to be ordered and the restaurant will need to find a place to put it.

Ronald Kalani Daniels bought the Kahului eatery from Bentos & Banquets by Bernard in December and is only the third owner of the restaurant.

Bernard Paet took over Cupies in 2003.

Daniels bought the business mainly because he needed a commercial kitchen for his food truck, but he wanted to open a restaurant as well.

And that’s a good thing, because his food truck at the Wailuku industrial area was not a hit, he said.

We “just couldn’t figure out the formula for that area.” Another drawback was the truck is stationary and cannot move around.

He is also working on another food truck concept featuring anything in a bowl, which will draw inspiration from Asian cuisine. This truck will be mobile, he said.

As for Cupies, the Daniels family feels good about the restaurant and getting approval of the Yoshizawa family to emulate the old business.

“That totally made my day with him coming,” said Jenny Daniels, of Yoshizawa attending the blessing.

She felt as the reins were being turned over from one family to another. “Now we are taking the essence of the old Cupies,” she said.

The restaurant was formerly an A&W. The Yoshizawa family bought it 1962 and Yoshizawa’s wife, Yaeko, decided to change it to Cupies two years later.

Yaeko Yoshizawa passed away in April.

Guy Yoshizawa said that his father, 94, was cheered by the blessing and tour of the kitchen and new facilities Saturday. “He was impressed, he liked it,” he said.

He added, “It was really nice what Ron and Emma are doing. It made us feel really good about it.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.