Lips will soon be smacking on the crispy chicken and spoons will be flying with the chili when Maui's much-anticipated first Zippy's opens in Kahului.
The doors will be unlocked at 10:30 a.m. Monday at its prime location on the corner of Hookele Street and the Mokulele Highway by King's Catheral, and the masses will flow in to enjoy Zip Pacs (bentos) and Napples (turnovers) by the dozen.
But beware of traffic snarls the opening may cause, as hordes of hungry Maui diners descend on Hawaii's favorite comfort food restaurant and find they cannot make a U-turn into the parking lot.
Server David Pisoni pours Seattle’s Best coffee for Zippy’s Operations Manager Nolle Ajimine in the cool, air-conditioned dining room with local art, cushy booths and high-vaulted ceilings.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Coming from Kihei? Pass Zippy's on the Mokulele Highway, then turn right. Those coming from Kahului or Lahaina should take the jug-handle right turn off Mokulele and get in the left "church" lane - and use the same entrance. Or you may drive past Wal-Mart and turn right off Hookele Street at the main entrance.
"I'm just as excited as everyone on Maui is!" gushes president and CEO Jason Higa, whose father and uncle started Zippy's 42 years ago as a saimin stand on South King Street and McCully Avenue on Oahu before even McDonald's opened its first fast-food outlet in Hawaii. "I can just feel all of the anticipation."
There are now 24 Zippy's on Oahu and the one opening on Maui is sure to rock with its high ceilings, awesome ambience, cool sit-down restaurant, fast-food counter and Napoleon's Bakery. There are 47 cushy booths, and 15 open up to seat parties of eight people comfortably.
* HOURS:: Zippy's will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Breakfast will be served from 11 p.m. to 10:30 a.m. daily.
* BY THE DOZEN: Famous Napples may be purchased individually or as a bunch. Choose apple, chocolate, coconut, red cherry and blueberry cream cheese.
* PUPU PLATTERS: Order one hour in advance for tubs of chicken katsu, fried noodles and more.
* FOR MORE DETAILS: Call Zippy's at 856-7599 or visit www.zippys.com.
"We really designed a building that Maui could be proud of for the long term," says Higa, who pretty much grew up on Zippy's food and started working for his dad at a very young age. "The decor is mainly what I call contemporary Hawaiian with local art and special flooring."
After graduating from law school, Higa returned to the business in 1995. "I wanted to help out the family," he says. "It's such an adventure to come to Maui. We'll very possibly expand further."
Once Zippy's Kahului opens, it will be a 24-hour-a-day affair, but management will monitor sales levels.
"We understand there may not be as much of a nightlife as on Oahu," Higa says. "But we're hoping for customers, and we'll make every attempt to stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
To get ready for the grand opening, Higa and Operations Manager Noelle Ajimine flew in 60 key employees for training and mentoring of the Maui staff.
"We secured a number of condos in Kihei for four weeks and we put them up. We have been passing out coupons to new employees and vendors to give to family and friends and we've been doing numerous dry runs so that they get actual training."
On a recent visit last week, I came in with a friend who had formerly opened several restaurants for Disney. "They only have two dry runs. And, that's IT. Very few places do what Zippy's is doing."
Indeed, the service we received improved immensely during our second visit. As for the food, we loved the fact we could order brown or white rice or real mashed potatoes; the house miso-mayo-and-sesame vinaigrette was a winner; the chicken was crunchy and good; and Seattle's Best coffee was a robust and flavorful cuppa. Lunch for two the first visit was $27, and the second time it was $36, plus gratuity.
Other patrons were smiling and stoked to be among the first to check it out.
"My Zip Min is gooood," says diner Janie Karimoto about the decorative pot filled with noodles, wun tun, breaded shrimp, fish cake vegetables, dried seaweed, egg, sweet pork and green onions. "The noodles were cooked just right."
"I had the simple omelette," says hostess Ipo Hashimoto, who had never dined at a Zippy's before. "You can have everything in it. So good with variety."
CEO Higa says the Zip Min is his favorite, and it's the signature saimin. "But I also love the Portuguese bean soup."
Zippy's sells 150,000 pounds of chili per month and you may get original, vegetarian or no-bean styles in a bowl with rice, crackers or cornbread; in a burrito; on top of nachos; with cheese on fries; or covering a hot dog and grilled bun.
"It's our most popular menu item," says Higa. "We have two, 300-gallon kettles at our main facility. We make 2,400 pounds of chili in one batch. We do this eight to 12 times a day."
They start by browning the ground beef, then large agitators pivot on an axis to blend ingredients. "It's a USDA-inspected facility and it ensures the food is safe. We will barge the chili over as well as the teriyaki sauce, the gravies and the soups."
There are mini-meal versions of almost everything. But the specials won't start until September. As for the famous Napples, they are baked in house by Napoleon Bakery. You may walk up to the bakery counter and order them by the dozen. Cravings Bakery here does the pies and cakes. The historic rush is on Monday - enjoy!