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Hawaii: In Real Life ~ Justin Yu

We talked story with the new chef at the Whole Ox Deli to see what he and his food are really like

Posted May 15, 2013 by Melissa Chang

A lot has been said and speculated at the Whole Ox Deli in Kakaako lately, with the changes that have taken place. How many of you have gone to see for yourself what the new menu and the new chef is like? In print and on the Internet, even if you try to make statements as detailed as possible, things can sometimes get misconstrued because body language and vocal inflections don’t always translate well.

Such may be the case with Justin Yu, the new chef at the Ox. I wanted to talk story with Justin on video to see what he’s like in person.

At the risk of biasing your judgement of my interview, I’m going to go off my usual format by giving you my impression based on this short encounter: He was super uncomfortable talking about himself in personal terms — for example, dragging out any information on his favorite sports, off camera, was quite a process. He seems genuine and smart, and a bit of a food nerd the way Nonstop blogger Ed Morita is. In fact, the photo of him (above, left) is a rare moment when he relaxed and his face lit up, a point where he was talking story with Ed off-camera about food and ingredients. He seems a little nervous here in video, but as with some of our interviewees, our best and most natural moments happened when the camera wasn’t rolling. So, you’ll get to know him a bit here, but I’d recommend you go to the Ox to meet him yourself.

We continued the conversation to find out more about what’s new at the Ox, and to get to know Justin a little better on a personal level. What’s his favorite food? Does he play sports? Is he really a street cage fighter? Visit to find out, and more.

Nonstop’s new food blogger Grant Shindo has been to the Whole Ox recently for both lunch and dinner. Here’s his review of some dishes he tried, including the dinner tasting menu:

Lunch menu: Whole Ox Burger (1 of 11)

Lunch menu: Whole Ox Burger

The dry-aged burger ($13, $1 cheese/onion, $2 egg) has been a crowd favorite since day one. The burger is juicy, well-seasoned and sandwiched between a fantastic bun. Adding an egg, onion and cheese is a must.


You can read all of Melissa’s blogs at Follow Melissa on Twitter @Melissa808, on Foursquare as Melissa808, or email at

  1. MyongChoi
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Those are some seriously steep prices for an establishment that is self serve and where you dine on a picnic table. The last time I went Chef Bob had just left and there were some noticeable changes. The prices had gone up and the menu selections were different. The burger used to be $11 (per my original Yelp review in Mar 2012). Now it’s $2 higher with just the addition of a scoop of mediocre mac salad added to it. I tried the fried chicken sandwich and didn’t think it worked too well. I thought it was an okay dish.
    I’m thinking that they will have a hard time keeping customers with those prices. People fell in love with what the original chef offered. After one visit with the new one, I’m not sold yet. But I am willing to give another chance (or two) to make sure.

  2. Melissa808
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 8:19 am

    @MyongChoi I’ll go with you to try. I was supposed to go back to try some lunch yesterday, but forgot that it was Ono To Go Day!

  3. MyongChoi
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 8:30 am

    @Melissa808 Just read the latest Yelp reviews and this place is getting torn apart. Wondering if it’s just loyalty to the original chef or they simply don’t like the changes or probably both. So far I have to side with the haters for now. Is there really a $120 steak on the menu? YGBFKM.
    But yeah, like I said, willing to give another shot so call me when you like go.

  4. jlieu
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Cold carrot soup and salad FTW! I need to go back again. Its been too long

  5. Soos808
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Good piece, @Melissa808 ! @jlieu the carrot soup is to die for, and has evolved since @chuggy_bear ‘s review. It’s even better now, IMHO. If you haven’t already, talk to Justin; I found him to be sincere. The rest of the Ox crew is still working, though Bob has moved on. I plan to go back for lunch and dinner when I can, as the food is good to great, and the service is super.

  6. Annoddah_Dave
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Delicate Blossom:  You were trying to get blood out of stone!  Great chefs usually develop some presentation skills to help them sell their creative wares.  This guy is young and he doesn’t appear to have a good mentor to round him out or he is lacking in outgoing personality.  It’s going to be a tough road….

  7. Melissa808
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    @Soos808  @jlieu  @chuggy_bear thanks! I wanna go with you guys. I always like eating in a group so we can taste more.

  8. Melissa808
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    @Soos808  @jlieu  @chuggy_bear thanks! I wanna go with you guys. I always like eating in a group so we can taste more.

  9. Melissa808
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    @Annoddah_Dave My theory is that the emergence of chefs as rock stars probably makes people think all chefs are flamboyant, loud, articulate, etc. In yesterday’s blog where I talked about 53 By The Sea, chef Thomas Ho was similar in demeanor and I’m guessing if I had opted to video an interview with him, I would have gotten the same results. 
    But you’re right, young chefs do need a mentor of some kind as far as presentation. Despite the fact that many chefs spend most of their time in back, in the kitchen, they’re no different from anyone in any other industry who will be called upon to speak in front of a camera or audience at some point if they want to further their career. We’re going off in another tangent, though! But, I hear you.

  10. Melissa808
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    @jlieu I want to try the mushroom dish!

  11. Melissa808
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    @jlieu I want to try the mushroom dish!

  12. harrycovair
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 1:01 am

    As soon as Bob “left” we noticed the menu board had changed and prices went up. I haven’t dropped by for a sandwich at Whole Ox since Bob left.
    I’ve noticed a few other notable chefs helping out Justin in some capacity. I won’t mention who they are but you’ve seen them walking around while dining at Taste.

  13. Melissa808
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 1:56 am

    @harrycovair I haven’t gone yet to eat, but I’m willing to give it a try.

  14. Melissa808
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 1:56 am

    @harrycovair I haven’t gone yet to eat, but I’m willing to give it a try.

  15. konaish
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 3:27 am

    @MyongChoi  @Melissa808 Let me know when you guys go. I was there on the first night of the new menu & was caught off guard by the changes. I haven’t been back for lunch yet, but I will eventually.

  16. Melissa808
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 7:17 am

    @konaish  @MyongChoi sounds good!

  17. 808marv
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Gee now I really regret not going to the “old” Whole Ox (barely over a year before this switch right? wow) as often as I could have, there were quite a few menu items that I wanted to try that are gone now.  I wouldn’t mind trying some of the new menu though I guess, the bread/buns look fantastic in the pics.

  18. Melissa808
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    @808marv Justin touched on the fact that they will be focusing a lot on the produce that Hawaii has to offer, so I’m sure that means many veg dishes. Which for ME, is fine, since I kind of like a little more balance in my meals. I hope it’s good!


About Melissa Chang

Melissa has been blogging regularly since 2007 and has more than 25 years’ experience in marketing and public relations. She is currently an independent marketing consultant, specializing in social media. 

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