Byron's restaurateur Andy Wong brings many 'firsts' to the island

Published On: Feb 28 2013 12:18:00 AM HST

It is two days until closing and it's the unusual scramble to dunk, ladle and pass.

"It's non-stop," said manager Ruth Arakaki.

"I was telling people I was going to eat a shrimp burger every day until we closed. That's until my cholesterol started going up," said owner Lori Wong.

Outside, it's the kind of tribute befitting of Byron's Drive-In, with long lines of people showing lots of love.

"Thanks for waiting," said Arakaki to the next customer in a line dozens deep.

"It's coming up on 39 years that I've been coming here," said Joel Kiyosaki, who worked for Hawaiian Airlines.

"I'm here out of love and respect. I'm going to cry!" sniffed Kiyosaki's wife Stephanie, who said they drove to Byron's from Ewa Beach to get a few of their favorites one more time.

But shrimp burgers, shakes, and fried favorites are but one serving of what Andy Wong and his family brought to the islands.

"Here's some really cool stuff," said Lori Wong as she showed KITV reporter Lara Yamada Byron's storage room stacked with remnants from previous restaurants owned by the family.

PHOTOS: Farewell to Byron's

Mobile users can click here to see a slideshow of pictures at Byron's.

"Kealoha. It even has a cell number," said Wong, looking at the back of a wooden piece of art of circling Koi fish.

"He was an innovator and a philosopher. He just loved doing it," said Wong of her father Andy.

Andy's Drive-In opened in Kailua in 1957.

It was the first one on the Windward side.

It would be one of many firsts said Wong. Her father Andy died of cancer at the age of 57 in 1985.

"He was the first in the islands to serve a pizza, San Francisco sourdough bread, real Vienna sausage from Chicago, Coquille St. Jaques, even the first to serve pasta," Lori rambled on, looking at a pile of old menus.

"He was the first to do cajun creole food in Hawaii," she said.

"He couldn't do the same thing twice."

"Wah-pow! You like fishmonger's oyster bar? It's cool brah! I'm happy as a clam," chirped claymation oysters in a 1988 The Fishmonger's Wife commercial.

That restaurant, along with Orson's, Chinese Chuckwagon, Wong's Okazu-Ya, Byron's Steak House were among 19 establishments opened by the Wong family from diners to top-tier dining.

"Drum roll please! Da da da da da!" Wong drummed on a counter top as she rolled out an Orson's menu scroll printed on parchment paper.

From a cardboard box, out came nearly six decades of work; restaurant names emblazoned on menus, t-shirts caps, and postcards.

"He wanted to bring it back to Hawaii to share it with the people of Hawaii," said Wong.

Andy opened 14 restaurants. Lori opened five more. Her mother Marian was only 16 when it all began.

"It was crazy, but it was fun," said Marian.

"It's been her life, then I thought about it, and it's been my life too!" said Lori.

"Maybe it's time to retire," said Marian.

"And Byron's Drive-In has been though it all," Lori concluded.

In their final days, it's all about the memories.

"If it weren't for him we may not have Walker's Deluxe!  I take it to his grave every year and pour a little sip for him," laughs Lori.

"I'm going to miss them," said Kiyosaski.

"Your grease will always be a part of my clogged arteries," one heart affectionately read, customers showing their appreciation for the family's sweat, sacrifice and time, appreciative of a family that served the islands so well.

"It's all the customers and the staff working together," said Arakaki.

"It's hard to say goodbye," admitted Marian.

"Mahalo, and thank you so much for a really good time," said Lori.

Marian said she loves traveling and thinks she'll hit Malaysia next. 

Lori said she's been holding cooking classes, and hopes to do more, along with a bit of traveling too.

Byron's closed its doors on Feb. 28, 2013.


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