HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 70 years ago, Wilfred and Mary Kawamura launched a little burger joint that still stands today. The menu hasn't changed much - in fact, it hasn't changed at all!
In our continuing series, "Small Business in Hawaii Works", W & M Burger proves that a mom-and-pop shop can serve up success - through the generations.
There's always a line at W & M Burger on Waialae avenue in Kaimuki. "Mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, relish, everything on it?" the cashier asks.
The Kawamuras knew their flame-broiled burgers were something special when they opened their first drive-in back in 1940, but they probably never expected their loyal following would cover the generations.
"I've been coming here since I was in grade school," says long time customer, Bruce Mau.
W & M owner Walt Kunimitsu explains, "They remember when my grandfather started it and they just, you know … the nostalgia and coming back and being at a place that they feel familiar with." Kunimitsu says that's the key to their success. He took over the family business from his mom, Myra, about nine years ago. Nostalgia and comfort food are the reasons they've kept the same menu - just five items - for all these decades.
The secret's in the special BBQ sauce, but the recipe is under lock and key. I asked Kunimitsu, "Any hints on what the secret sauce is?" He said, "Oh, no, that's been kept secret for ages and ages. There's only just two people that know."
Even Ida Shiraishi doesn't know - and she's worked at W & M for 30 years. At age 16, she came looking for a job when Wilfred was still boss. Shiraishi remembers, "He just looked at me. He didn't even ask for an application to fill out. He just said, 'Oh, what's your name?' And then, 'Come back Saturday'. So, I did and he said, 'Oh, you start on Monday', so I was like, 'Okay!'"
Ida's been there ever since. The very first W & M was located in Nuuanu, and the burgers sold for just 19 cents. They moved to 9th avenue in the late 60's, and then, to the current location in 1980.
We wondered what Wilfred Kawamura would think of his business today. "Overall, he'd be very happy, and that's kind of another reason why we want to keep this going because everyday that this drive-in stays open is more memory and tribute to them - everybody in all my family who has worked here in the past."
Future generations of customers hope you'll keep it going, too.