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It’s tomorrow: Aloha, Byron’s Drive-In

Forty-eight years of 24/7 shrimp burgers and fried Oreos ends tomorrow at 10 p.m.


Posted February 27, 2013 by Mari Taketa

Whoosh, what a ride. Forty-eight years, countless shrimp burgers and deep-fried Oreos, Saturday lunches and late-night runs later, Byron’s Drive-In closes tomorrow night, and it’s a sad good-bye.

Byron’s opened by the airport May 10, 1965. It’s the last restaurant of the Andy Wong family, starting with Leon’s at Kailua in 1955 and running through Andy’s Drive-In; Wong’s Okazu-ya, Byron II Steak House and Fishmonger’s Wife, all at Ala Moana Center; Chowder House and Orson’s at Ward Warehouse, and a dozen more. Did you know all that?

Now it’s lost its lease and will close forever at 10 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28. The lines have been snaking into the tables and parking lot for days — people getting their last fixes from a weather-worn icon that, whether you were a regular or just passed it going to and from the airport, you pretty much grew up with.

“It has been insane!” writes Lori Wong, Andy’s daughter, in a 5 a.m. email. “Two hundred twenty-six shrimp burgers and 80 deep-fried Oreos just on Saturday, as many deep-fried Elvises as we can make (and I have been making them!), made with guava jelly and bananas, and deep-fried pickles — soon to disappear as we whittle down inventory.

“Our counter girls have a hard time not tearing up when customers tell them that they will miss us. Lots of memories. The TATUA bike club had a cruise nite last week. We’re one of the few places left with a big enough parking lot.”

Some other things you may not know about Byron’s:

  • Byron’s was named for one of Lori Wong’s brothers. Andy Wong believed in strong names. Both Byron and Orson, the name he gave his other son, mean ‘bear.’
  • Those signature fried things, the deep-fried Oreos and pickles and such — they include deep-fried Twinkies, too.
  • The ham hocks and collard greens were killer, a plate lunch that never left the menu because it was so popular with Byron’s large military following.
  • Byron’s went through 1,500 to 2,000 pounds a month of Kuahiwi ground beef — in the spaghetti (now 86’d), loco moco, chili and burgers.
  • The top-selling burger was mushroom.
  • This is your last chance to get the New England clam chowder from the former Chowder House. It’s being served until closing.
  • They’re giving away Byron’s Drive-In POGS and wooden nickels until they run out.
  • Until recently, when it was forced to close for tsunami evacuations, Byron’s was 24/7. For 48 years.

“It’s been a good run,” Lori Wong says. “Always with aloha.”

True, that. We won’t forget. Aloha, Byron’s.

Your Instagram good-byes

barsup (2 of 17)

barsup

Possibly the last time I ever eat here. Thanks for the ono grinds. One of my earliest memories of coming to Oahu as a kid was eating here and playing in the arcade. Sad to see this place close. #ByronsDriveIn

Comments


You can read all of Mari’s blogs at www.nonstophonolulu.com/Deliriyum. Follow Mari on Twitter @NonStopMari or email at mari@nonstophonolulu.com.

  1. Posted February 27, 2013 at 6:31 am

    Aiyah! I gotta go!

  2. Annoddah_Dave
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 7:32 am

    EO:  The Wong family had a nice run of running restaurants some were good and some not so.  Which brings up the question as to why restaurants start up then die.  I cannot think of many restaurants that have survived over 50 years…Sekiya’s maybe one.  Besides leases and other costs, a major thing is relevance.  People’s taste change, how does a restaurant stay relevant and grow/retain customers?  It is a tough business, and probably people who start it up tell their kids not to get into it as it is not as easy as it seems.

  3. 808marv
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Not as nostalgic about Byron’s as a lot of folks–just never went there often enough–but it is sad to see another iconic local drive-in close their doors.  I remember all the Andy’s/Byron’s commercials on TV back in the day.  After much procrastinating following the initial announcement I finally went a week ago for lunch to have some fried chicken and a Green River.  The chicken was very good, big pieces and tasty.  I think that was a good enough trip down memory lane.  But if they still have some ham hocks left…or maybe I’ll get a fried PB&J…hmm

  4. nonstopmari
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    @StarletShay budget some time. the line in the pic was at 10:30 last nite

  5. nonstopmari
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    @Annoddah_Dave i think part of the answer lies in the shrimp burgers, deep-fried oreos and ham hocks. prolly not at all what byron’s started out w/. other places that started ard that time: zippy’s, liliha bakery, palace saimin… all in the recession-proof zone of restos

  6. nonstopmari
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    @808marv menu is pared down this week to best-sellers like different burgers, loco mocos, clam chowder, fried oreos and stuff, w/ spcls. last nite there was turkey jook and black bean chix; other daily spcls had run out. if u go and see ham hocks, pls tweet me!

  7. harrycovair
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    @808marv Plus the places in or near Ala Moana Center: Wong’s Okazu-ya, Coral Reef, Orson’s, and the Chinese Lunchwagon. I need to read up and see if they owned Andrew’s. I believe they did.

  8. harrycovair
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    @Annoddah_Dave I have to assume that most eateries in Hawaii are all on leases or on leased land. As the lease fees increase, so to does the prices. When the breakeven point is crossed, then unfortunately something has to give.
     
    We had this conversation with @parkrat one day about long time surviving restaurants. @nonstopmari mentions some of them in her reply to you. Rainbow Drive In is another long standing establishment.

  9. harrycovair
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    @StarletShay Go… go NOW!

  10. harrycovair
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    @nonstopmari  @808marv  The Honey Dip’t Fried Chicken will be surely missed. At least there’s Queen’s BBQ in town and Paalaa Kai in Waialua.

  11. nonstopmari
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    @harrycovair u’re right re andrew’s. here’s the full list:
    leon’s at kailua, andy’s drive in, andy’s ebb tide, joe’s at waikiki, coral reef restaurant, byron’s, wong’s okazuya, byron II steak house, orson’s bourbon house, chowder house, orson’s, seafood emporium, andrew’s, big ed’s delicatessen, chinese chuckwagon at ward fmrs’ mkt, fishmonger’s wife, orson’s chowderette, oink’s bbq rib joint, andrew’s at exec centre.

  12. Melissa808
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 12:36 am

    @808marv I was trying to articulate my feelings about this prior and you hit the nail on the head. I have been there and I like it, just never went there enough because it wasn’t convenient to where I live. When I did go, I was (mostly) happy with what I got. But yes, sad to see a longtime drive-in close.

  13. Annoddah_Dave
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 6:51 am

    @harrycovair  @parkrat  @nonstopmari Green Bean:  Of those mentioned, notice that it is not necessarily the creativity of the fuud, rather it is the consistency.  I cannot say I have visited any of them more than once in the past year and some not at all.  I guess it is because my tastes have changed and I want to experience more creativity and quality…albeit at a price that is affordable.  But consistency is what it is, I can only eat so much of the Zippy’s chili…like maybe twice a year.  BTW, I think Sekiya’s owns the land it sits on.  Perhaps Liliha Bakery as well.

  14. Annoddah_Dave
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 7:09 am

    @harrycovair  @parkrat  @nonstopmari Green Bean:  Did some checking and found out that Sekiya’s started in 1935, Palace in 1946.  Flamingo in 1950 as well Liliha.  Zippy’s in 1966.

  15. harrycovair
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 10:00 am

    @nonstopmari Mahalo Mari.

  16. harrycovair
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 10:06 am

    @Annoddah_Dave  Mahalo. @parkrat  @nonstopmari I miss all the Saimin eateries I grew up with: Toyo Theater in Chinatown (small mom and pop shop), <something> Lane Saimin (they ended up almost next door to Tamashiro Market), The Saimin/Curry house on the corner of Beretania and Keeaumoku where the Chevron is now (used to have a theater there), Green Lite Inn at the top of Mokauaea St where is crosses King St. Memories!

  17. Posted February 28, 2013 at 10:22 am

    @harrycovair  @Annoddah_Dave  @nonstopmari The saimin place I miss the most that has the most memories for me is Tanoue’s in Kaimuki. *sigh*

  18. Annoddah_Dave
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 11:19 am

    @ParkRat  @harrycovair  @Annoddah_Dave  @nonstopmari Have you guys tried Nakai Saimin on Nuuanu?

  19. Posted February 28, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    @Annoddah_Dave  Yes I have. When we were in the area and they were open. Which was sporadic for a while. They had opened the truck out Haleiwa side (now moved to Kapahulu) and then the wife needed surgery so sometimes you couldn’t count on them being open. @harrycovair  @nonstopmari

  20. KevinSOshiro
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    interesting.. it’s quite sad.. it’s like a historic landmark (think Rainbow Drive Inn, Columbia Inn, KC Drive Inn, Likelike Drive Inn, Meg’s Drive Inn, the Willows restaurant, Diner’s, Leonard’s Bakery, Liliha Bakery, Fritz’s European Bakery in Kalihi) – the place has been there for decades…

  21. KevinSOshiro
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    i almost forgot about one more place, Wailana Coffee House in Waikiki — I just went there two days ago. It’s quite nice. Kinda like how Kenny’s Restaurant or Ken’s House of Pancakes (in Hilo). Locals and tourists alike flock to this place. Tried home made corned beef hash, scrambled eggs and all you can eat pancakes “breakfast special.” comfort food. it felt good !!!

  22. KevinSOshiro
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    then there is Mitsuken in Kalihi, which is moving the area close to First Hawaiian Bank across the old Kalihi Bowl area (now it’s a Nissan car dealership). I remember buying magazines from the pharmacy store. Playing bowling there for my high school team… Fun times (back in 1988-1992). (Before there was Kam Bowl, now a Walgreen’s on School Street.) Then, there is Mitusba across the street by Freight Merchant. There is always a line at Mitsuken for lunch. Bob’s Big Boy is still not renovated; I do miss eating breakfast there. I miss Gibson’s Shopping Center close by (Servco Mapunapuna); there was a Jumbo’s and Jack in the Box there. 99 Ranch Market – I miss that one also; now, it’s a food court. It was for those people who lived in Pearl City but didn’t want to drive all the way to Chinatown to buy their cheap fresh vegetables, fruits and Asian imported items (see Pacific Supermarket in Waipahu; Palama Market in Kalihi and by Don Quijote; Keeaumoku Supermarket (Korean store) ). It’s hard to call it Don Quijote or Don Ki, I will still remember calling that 24 shopping complex Daiei or Holiday Mart – i’m old school like that. Since the Macy’s in Downtown is gonna shut down, the retail company shoud replace it with Liberty House (it’s former name) or J.C. Penney (another store that Hawaii lost).

  23. 808marv
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    I passed by Byron’s on the way home on the final night…unreal.  Lot 100% full with some folks bringing their classic cars, other people parking wherever they can in nearby areas, KITV remote in the lot, line so deep it reminded me of Star Wars at the Cinerama Theater back in the day lol.  Years ago other classic Hawaii drive-ins like Alex’s in Kapahulu and Chunky’s by the old Honolulu Stadium location closed down but I don’t believe it was with this kind of fanfare…I wonder what their final day crowds would have been like with today’s internet & social media.  Anyway it’s a pretty amazing sendoff for Byron’s.

  24. Amy1
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Now Byron closed they should think of going food on wheels.  It only way to go since so many fine food business folded due landlords.  Masa was one also landlord.  Hope Wong family think of having a food truck business with Byron foods in it .

  25. nonstopmari
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    @808marv i’m glad. i cdn’t get there last nite, thnx for that report

  26. 808marv
    Posted March 2, 2013 at 8:35 am

    @nonstopmari KITV posted the video from of Justin Fujioka’s live report at closing time.  Listen for the supposed bid amount for a shrimp burger!  Wonder if the lady at the front of the line got one.
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR_t-RKaobU

  27. nonstopmari
    Posted March 2, 2013 at 10:08 am

    @808marv $!50??! i wish i’d tasted it once…

  28. 808marv
    Posted March 2, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    @nonstopmari Well I heard it was good, but I dunno if it’s $150 good!

  29. 808marv
    Posted March 2, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Another story from KITV on Byron’s that includes a retrospective of the Wong family restaurants.  Check out the old commercial’s for Fishmonger’s Wife, Oink’s, etc.
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1XANPu30vs

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About Mari Taketa

Mari Taketa is a dedicated eater who's as opinionated as she is hungry. She covered everything from neighborhood mom-and-pop places to ethnic eateries to fine dining restaurants on Honolulu's dining scene for Metromix Honolulu and The Honolulu Advertiser's TGIF. Before that, she ate her way through Vietnam, Scotland and Japan, where she lived, traveled or worked, after recovering from a journalism career that included stints as editor-in-chief of Hawaii Business magazine and reporter and editor at The Associated Press. Her goals are to always be hungry for more, and to always want to know what's around the next corner.

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