Shiro’s History

Mistah Saimin

When Shiro’s Saimin Haven opened in 1969, the goal was to serve home-style comfort food at a reasonable price to hard-working people. Franz Shiro Matsuo, the founder, wanted to have a place where people could enjoy good food while forgetting about the stress in their lives.

At 55 years old when many people are looking to slow down as they approach retirement, Shiro was presented with an opportunity to open his own restaurant. At the time, he had endured many hard times and had finally landed a good job as an instructor under the Manpower and Training Act with the Kapiolani Community College. He gave up this secure state job and started with nothing in order to accomplish his “impossible dream” of being his own boss.

Shiro had always had the idea of glorifying the saimin, which was seen as just a lowly snack. He took the saimin to the new level of being a meal in itself. He was the first to introduce vegetables into the saimin. He was the first to introduce chicken, roast duck, roast pork, as well as a trove of other items to the saimin. He paired the saimin with a myriad of sides. He created the Dodonpa – the king of saimin with 10 different garnishes. He created a special saimin for all the different ethnic groups. Today, Shiro’s Saimin Haven boasts a total of 64 different saimin creations! For these reasons, he was known as “Mistah Saimin” to most customers and employees.

Shiro did not stop there. He strived to be different from the rest. He created some very inventive combinations with his sandwiches and meals. His “Beeg Shiro” combines teri beef, char siu, onions, lettuce and tomato. He was the first to use spaghetti noodles in his potato-mac salad. He had fun naming his entrees: Yaki Yaki Yakitori Chicken, Tonki Tokatsu (Ala Shirotobi Sasuke), Chop-a-long Steak (Faster than Hop-a-long), Shiro’s Original Hula Hula Chicken (It’s Teri-yakking Good!), etc.

Shiro was a very colorful free-spirited entrepreneur. He was a self-taught ukulele player and singer. Nothing stopped him. Just because no one signed him up to record any songs, he was not discouraged. He simply produced his own cd’s! Several of them. He had his own concert at Mckinley High Auditorium produced by a professional, Pierre Grill.

He also loved to visit schools, senior citizen clubs, rotary clubs, etc to give motivational talks about following your dreams. He was a favorite interviewee for the local television channels and newspaper reporter because he was “off-the wall” and one of a kind.

And he wrote profusely. He wrote thousands of poems – on napkins, scratch pads, journals, book covers, everywhere. He wrote about everyday people, about his innermost thoughts, about life’s travails. He took as his opening “Dear Hearts” (from the song “I love those dear hearts and gentle people, who live in my home town.”) A lot of the poems were published in “Dining Out” for which he wrote a new poem every single week for over 20 years. Some of them line the walls of Shiro’s Saimin Haven restaurants in Waimalu and Ewa Beach. The poems are meant to make people laugh and contemplate their actions.

Shiro passed away in 2012 but the reigns were passed way back in 1990. From the beginning, Linda Matsuo, Shiro’s daughter, worked for the company part-time and became full-time in 1984. When Jean, Shiro’s wife and partner in business, passed away, Linda took over all the administrative duties. She kept the theme consistent and helped transform the company from a mom-and-pop kind of operation into a computerized, structured establishment. Shiro was the dreamer and Linda was the realist. They were yin and yang. One thing they had in common was the belief in hard work, compassion and simple common sense. While she kept the “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” theme, she improved every facet of the business and help to solidify the success of the company.

Bryce Fujimoto, Linda’s son, grew up in the restaurant industry just as she did. He enjoyed working in every station in the front and back of the house. He also gained valuable experience working at many different restaurants. After graduating from the Shidler College of Business, he took what he learned and strove to keep the family tradition going. He joined the management team in the early 2000’s and is now heading the catering and operating side of the business. He has inherited some of Grandpa Shiro’s talent and is continuing the tradition of the weekly “Dear Hearts” poems under the “Saimin, Jr.” label.

Gavan Lee, the youngest son, has also joined the Shiro’s corporation and in 2016 he became co-manager of the Ewa Beach location along with Rafaela Capinpin.

As you can see, we are one of the few intact family restaurants to have lasted 50 years! 2019 is our 50th year anniversary. We hope to continue serving meals as long as people keep wanting our local kine food.

What sets Shiro’s apart from other restaurants are three things:

  1. We have a close relationship with our customers. Some people come in every day of the week. We know about their families; and, we watch as the next generation grows up to become our regulars. We share the ups and downs of life with our customers.
  2. We are also blessed with a core of solid, loyal employees. Some have been with us for over 40 years. They are considered to be part of the Shiro’s family. The restaurant would not have the same familiarity or warmth without the close-knit relationship of our workers. We have the kindest, most dedicated and hardest working employees. We are a wacky bunch and you are welcome to join us anytime!
  3. We are committed to continuing the same recipes and method of cooking that Shiro Matsuo developed in his long history of cooking. He was an old-school chef who knew how to butcher his own meat and came up with his own recipes through experimentation over the years. We are committed to provide in-house home-cooked meals, never mass-produced frozen products.

At Shiros’s, we offer tasty local home-style food served with a friendly smile and a dash of entertainment. You will not find another restaurant like us anywhere. We are one of a kind!