“Keep it hot and fresh” could be the motto for Waikapu on 30 owner Barbara Kikuchi, who runs the popular plate lunch stop on Honoapiilani Highway in Waikapu. “We’re kind of like a truck stop,” said the former hotel sales and marketing executive. Kikuchi also worked for six years in media and employee relations for Maui Electric Co. “I’m not a trained chef,” she said. But she knows her customers aren’t exactly looking for haute cuisine. “It comes out like you were cooking at home,” Kikuchi said. And her simple, home-cooking approach works well. “People are coming back,” she said, “plenty of repeat customers.” The business sells an average of 200 to 250 plate lunches daily, and “we do lots of saimin and burgers and deli sandwiches are flying out the door.”
While Kikuchi is enjoying success in her seven-year-old business, she contemplated shutting down two years ago when her targeted clientele of construction workers and local families scaled back on eating out. Kikuchi’s family urged her to carry on and pledged to help out. “If I didn’t have them, I don’t know if I would be here today … You need a strong family backing when times are hard,” she said. Kikuchi adjusted in the down times by accepting catering jobs, some of which have turned into regular clients.
“You always have to re-evaluate and see what you need to do to stay in business,” she said. After one such business evaluation, Kikuchi decided to start an outdoors Friday night dinner featuring Hawaiian food at her store beginning this summer. Kikuchi also remains loyal to her commitment to use local products, from growing her own luau leaves to purchasing locally-grown taro for her popular Hawaiian plates. She has no plans to expand the store. “We don’t want to lose the mom and pop, the local feel. That’s what I love about my store, I know my customers. If I were any bigger, I wouldn’t be able to talk to people and get to know them.”