Waimalu - 808-488-8824
Ewa Beach - 808-689-0999

Mistah Saimin

Shiro in the ArmyAll his life, Franz Shiro Matsuo had a dream – he wanted to be his own boss and one day run his own restaurant. Growing up as a Nissei (Second) Generation in Hawaii, and also being the youngest of three brothers, he was tired of living in the shadow of others. Shortly after he graduated from McKinley High School, Shiro was eager to learn the necessary skills as a chef in order to accomplish his goal. Throughout his journey he endured a life of adversity but he never gave up, he never doubted himself. Shiro diligently worked a myriad of jobs and was exposed to all walks of life in the process. Through sheer determination he eventually became one of Hawaii’s notables. However Shiro never forgot his roots, and eventually he used his life lessons to help in the growth of the culinary industry, as well as the community.

Before Shiro was able to begin his career in the restaurant industry he was drafted into the army in 1942 during World War II. As fate would have it, his scrawny physical demeanor (about 109 pounds with pack on) was a blessing in disguise. He was too small to be used in combat so they stuck him in the crapper. He worked his way up from latrine orderly, then to cook assistant, and eventually to his Colonel’s cook. One could say that the army provided Shiro with his cooking foundations; here Shiro learned how to cook for the masses.

Shiro at the TeahouseAfter the army in 1945 he worked as a fry cook in the Seaside Garden, a restaurant/nightclub and then in 1947 as a chef at the Mochizuki Teahouse, one of the largest teahouses in Honolulu at the time. Both were owned by his older brothers Tats and Freddie, whom by that time were bequeathed a handful of restaurants and small theaters. It was while he was working for his brothers when he first met a man named John Burns, who took an affinity to Shiro because of his unique personality. In fact many people eventually came into the teahouse solely to “shoot the breeze” with young charismatic Shiro. Franz, as he was known at the time, always had a singular personality – he could be described as spunky with a dash of wackiness. Eventually in 1952 Shiro scraped enough to finally open his own restaurant. Then tragedy struck – his two older brothers passed suddenly, leaving behind a massive dept. Once more, Shiro’s goals were set aside as he was forced to pay his brothers’ obligations.

Then it was off to work again. Shiro was hired by the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1952 when it was controlled by Matson Navigation Company, but left when Sheraton took over. He then travelled to Japan to learn the art of rolling sushi, slicing sashimi, and of course making noodles. After three years he came back to Hawaii, and took a job as assistant broiler at Donn the Beachcomber. Here he was taught to broil with flair, as he was asked to put on a show while cooking sides of beef. Later that year he as offered a job in a Japanese Teahouse in Los Angeles; he stayed for three months and came back to the islands. Shiro then cooked at the Biltmore Hotel, The Hoffbrau, again at Donn the Beachcomber’s, as well as several delicatessens. If anyone is keeping track, Shiro worked a total of ten different jobs from 1952 to 1958, often holding up to 3 jobs at a time.

Some thought Shiro was crazy. His wife Jean pleaded him to stick to one job but Shiro wasn’t happy. He wanted to touch upon all culinary bases in order to become a complete restaurateur. All his life he felt that he amounted to nothing. He lived his entire life never accomplishing what the Issei (First) Generation did – paving the way for Japanese in Hawaii, nor gaining the respect that his brothers commanded. Shiro wanted to carve out his own little niche in the islands; Shiro wanted to be his own boss.

After another three years the local boy finally caught a break. One day in 1963 he got a call from an old friend John Burns, who was now called Governor John Burns. The Governor never forgot him and asked the aspiring restaurateur to come and be his personal chef at Washington Place. Of course Shiro jumped at the offer, and in no time the two became even closer friends. This relationship opened other opportunities for him.

Shiro's Saimin Haven Original LogoAbout a year later Governor Burns recommended Shiro to be one of the first cooking instructors at Kapiolani Community College. Then the rudimentary Culinary School was called the Manpower Training and Redevelopment Program. Here he helped many unmotivated underachievers discover a passion for cooking and equipped them with skills that they could use to get a job. He captivated his students using unorthodox methods. His lesson plans consisted of singing songs on his ukulele, entertaining the students with the rhythmic use of knives, and even reciting wacky poetry or philosophy. He discovered his passion for teaching youngsters and giving back to the community and his “off-the-wall” antiques was a perfect match for the school at the time. One of his students at the time was a young man named Conrad Nonaka, who now is the Director of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific. The two are still very close friends, united by their passion for teaching in the culinary arts.

Finally in 1967 Shiro found a dive in the Aiea Bowling Alley that was struggling to survive. He didn’t have enough money to buy it outright, but assumed its liabilities totaling around $50,000. Shiro visited nearly every creditor on the island and when he finally got their OK, he cried tears of joy. And so Shiro’s Hula Hula Drive In was created. Fueled with determination Shiro worked an average of 14 hours a day, 7 days a week and didn’t take a vacation for 3 years. The word was out that there was a wacky Japanese man who made pretty good local food. He worked at that small hole in the wall by himself and each day the sales grew.

Eventually he outgrew the Aiea Bowling Alley and in 1969 he found a place in Waimalu Shopping Center, right off of Kamehameha Highway. At that time everyone served saimin; it was usually geared as a snack with a teri beef stick or side. Then Shiro combined all of his experience and created an adventure in saimin dining, thus giving birth to SHIRO’s SAIMIN HAVEN. Now the restaurant boasts around 60 different versions of saimin, along with a wide variety of local favorites, Shiro’s style.

PanioloAt his current age of 91 years old, Mistah Saimin continues to exhibit the spunky attitude that has become an innate integral part of his life and philosophy. He has continued to pass his message to others through his “Dear Hearts” poetry, which can be found adorned on the walls of his restaurant as well as in his book for all to read. He still teaches youngsters, as not many know that he was the original instructor for the Weed and Seed Cooking Program. Shiro has also continued to be a motivational guest speaker since the 1960’s to high schools, colleges, professional organizations, senior citizen clubs and Japan universities complimentary.

To this day Shiro impacts the community, donating to various high schools and charities on an annual basis. He has sponsored his own ukulele singing contest and produced a handful of CD’s, donating 100% of the proceeds to McKinley High, American Cancer Society, Aiea High, Pearl City High, and Pearl City Hongwanji Chirch. Mistah Saimin has even sponsored two DOE poetry contests with the help of Wilson Foodservice and awarded $2000 scholarship for each event.

Shiro's FamilyShiro has successfully turned over the day-to-day operations and entire restaurant business to his daughter Linda since around 1990. She initially made her mark by joining the family business in 1985 and opened two successful locations in the Waipahu and the Dillingham area. Her husband Aaron later joined in 1994, and her son Bryce just recently came on, making it a 3 generation family business. Shiro’s son Alan runs the noodle factory.

Mistah Saimin’s life journey exemplifies the fact that nothing is impossible. With the help of his wife, family, and dedicated employees, Shiro demonstrated that success is attainable through perseverance, stamina, and a positive attitude. Shiro enhanced the image and quality of the industry by staying focused to his vision and goal though his high quality product and impeccable and “down to earth” service. What started off as a quest for personal achievement ended in a demonstration of dedication and commitment to the growth of an industry.

Waimalu Location
98-020 Kamehameha Hwy
Aiea, HI 96701

#808-488-8824

Hours:
Sun-Thurs 7am-10:30pm
Fri-Sat 7am-11:30pm

Ewa Beach Location
91-919 Fort Weaver Rd.
Ewa Beach, HI 96706

#808-689-0999

Hours:
Sun-Thurs 7am-10:30pm
Fri-Sat 7am-11:30pm

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