HONOLULU (KHON2) — It is a scene that has repeated itself daily since the Royal Kitchen soft opening in 1974: Crowds of people waiting in line to enjoy great manapua and other delicious foods.
Business is booming nearly a half-century later and all of the familiar faces are returning.
“We’ve had generations of people coming in again,” said Liana Benn. “And it’s inspiring when we hear people get off the airplane the first place they want to come is either us or Zippy’s. So it’s been really heartwarming people coming by and saying don’t close now don’t close.”
Benn is back helping to run the family business after enjoying her own career traveling the globe as an HR professional with the federal government.
She said she originally jumped back in as a part-timer, helping out on Saturdays.
“And then my sister wanted me to come back and work full-time and I said OK I retired but then I started working full-time running the shop,” Benn said.
Much has changed since the early days of Royal Kitchen and COVID-19 presented another unique challenge. Business dropped significantly during the pandemic.
“A good percentage of our business is Omiyage. In other words, people take mine to pour or whatever foods you take it off-island to the neighbor islands or take it off-island to the mainland. All the travel stopped,” she said.
It was the same story with their catering business as parties, weddings and funerals also came to a halt. Benn also saw the positive, despite the challenges.
“This is a beautiful area. Once you clean it up, this River Street mall has a lot of history in it. You have the Izumi Taisho temple over there, another temple there, the other temple on the other side,” Benn said.
With travel on the rebound, business is back and so are the customers. Benn said, the secret to their continued success is really no secret at all.
“Just being friendly I’ve been here a long, long, long time. I’m not modernizing, you don’t see your people with iPads or tablets or stuff like that. We look at that one day but right now everything is written on recycled paper in the old phone is ringing off the hook,” Benn said.
One can not talk about Royal Kitchen without bringing up the fact that they only serve baked manapua; Eleven varieties, to be exact. Many consider them to be the first-ever kitchen to bake rather than steam them. KHON2 asked Benn if she could confirm the rumor.
“I will not [confirm or deny], yeah, I think we, one of the first, I don’t wanna’ have somebody else I know, no, no, but yeah, we were probably one of the first,” Benn said.