WAILUA — For 10 years, Wailua Family Restaurant owner Kim Murakami has been greeting customers from behind the cash register — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Murakami comes from the old school of business management, still present in pockets on Kaua‘i, that refuses to separate the people from the product.
He scoffs at the idea of taking a day off to play golf or tennis, leaving the business in someone else’s hands.
“I’m the key,” he said. “I have to be here to greet the people, say hello and goodbye.”
While this dedication has served Murakami well over the years, it’s made the decision to permanently close the restaurant on Saturday unavoidable.
Citing health problems and an impending surgery, the business owner says he can no longer head off this very tough decision.
“I don’t want to do it, but I have no choice,” he said. “It’s a very sad time.”
Perhaps the biggest group to feel the loss will be Kaua‘i’s seniors, who enjoyed the eatery’s salad buffet, low prices, variety of foods and familial atmosphere.
Murakami has been dedicated to providing a place for the older crowd to socialize and eat out on a budget. In fact, talking to him gives you the sense that the restaurant was a means to an end.
One of his favorite memories is the annual Christmas party with Kaua‘i County senior centers, where he’d serve a $10 buffet and the people would stay all day. It didn’t matter, he said, that he barely broke even.
“Those kinds of memories you can’t take away from me,” he said.
Wailua residents Helen and Charles Saiki have been eating at Wailua Family Restaurant a few times a week since it opened.
“They don’t rush you out,” said Charles, 84, lingering over a cup of coffee with his wife and in-laws from O‘ahu.
He and Helen are still not sure where they’ll relocate for their weekly outings.
“We sure will miss it,” Helen said.
There’s no word yet from the property’s landlord as to a future tenant. The Saturday closure will affect about a dozen employees.
Before starting his own business, Murakami was the supervisor for the Sizzler in the same location until it closed. All in all, he has about 50 years of restaurant experience.
“I like to take care of people,” he said. And like a true chef never puts down his knife, Murakami said he’s taking care of his health so that he can be around to help others later on.