Savor the Excitement: Bringing Beloved Local Eateries to Kuilei Place

Get ready for an exciting culinary journey as Aoki Group prepares to make its mark on Kuilei Place! With more than 7,000 square feet of prime retail and restaurant space awaiting transformation, anticipation is mounting for Kevin Aoki’s latest gastronomic endeavor. We recently chatted with restaurateur Kevin Aoki to get the latest scoop on what he’s working on, his process of opening restaurants and the philosophy he brings to each experience.

Kevin has worked in the food and beverage scene all his life. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Yunosuke Aoki, and father, Rocky Aoki — who founded the legendary Benihana restaurant chain — Kevin shares the same passion for the culinary industry. He spent 15 years alongside his father to help open 30 Benihana restaurants and has since built his own restaurant empire with the Aoki Group (Doraku Sushi & Izakaya, Bluetree Café, 1938 Indochine, Qing Mu Noodle, Rocky Teppanyaki, and Aoki Teppanyaki) both in Hawaiʻi and on the mainland.

“For me, as a restaurant guy, the building and putting together a concept or bringing in a franchise, that’s the most exciting part of what I do and that’s what drives me to continually open new restaurants,” Kevin says. “What we want to do is bring the experience to the customer, where the customer gets involved with the brand. That takes a very thought-out creative process — from design to layout, from operations to ensuring the original ideas get through to the customer; there’s a lot of moving parts. That whole process is what drives me to keep opening restaurants. I always tell myself it’s the last one, but after I’m done, I want to keep going.”

With a focus on fostering connection through food, Kevin’s philosophy centers on continuous improvement and building lasting relationships with customers. His mission is to create a place where people can “make friends while eating great food.” It’s a culture that his grandfather established in 1942 and passed down to his father. It’s how he grew up and how he continues to grow his business with every Aoki Group restaurant design and menu reflecting the same philosophy. Additionally, Kevin believes in the philosophy of kaizen, or continuous improvement. He teaches his employees that every time they walk into the restaurant they should look out for things that they can make better for the next person coming in. “I’m excited that the Kobayashi Group is building this dynamic neighborhood. It’s a special space and I’m excited to be a part of it,” says Kevin.

As he embarks on new ventures at Kuilei Place, Kevin is excited to contribute to the energy of the neighborhood, envisioning a vibrant culinary landscape that reflects his commitment to excellence and community engagement. Currently, he is in the exploratory phase of planning the restaurant concepts he’d like to open at Kuilei Place. He envisions something more on the casual end of eateries and mentions that he’s had some discussions with the brand owner of local favorite Like Like Drive Inn, which opened in 1953 and closed in 2020. He’s also looking at including a small coffee shop and noodle bar at Kuilei Place. While nothing is set yet, Kevin’s passion for culinary innovation will no doubt contribute to the neighborhood’s bright and flavorful future.