Talk Story: The Mid Nite Inn

Photo courtesy of Molokai History Project

Opened in 1935, the Mid Nite Inn was synonymous with Molokai, akule and good times. Last Saturday, Feb. 24, John and Phillip Kikukawa sat down with a packed house at the Molokai History Project to reminisce on three generations of running the Mid Nite Inn. The following is an edited version of the two-hour-plus dialogue from Saturday’s event.

John Kikukawa (JK): “We were born into the restaurant business. We came from parents who were really different. Dad (Art) was a local boy. Mom (Cecily) was a new haole teacher…We lived half a mile away from the restaurant, next to the Seaside Inn…That area was all Molokai Ranch rentals.”

Phillip Kikukawa (PK): “My freedom was when I was six years old, I got my bicycle. To this day, I’m still riding my bike…Growing up in the Mid Nite Inn, it was like our playground…We ran around, played in it, when you were hungry you just ate whatever.”

The Mid Nite Inn had started as their grandmother’s saimin stand.

JK: “My grandmother (Hisae) came from a highly entrepreneurial family, the Kometanis…My grandfather was a contractor. He built Puu O Hoku ranch, the Chow building across the street, the nurses’ station, Kamoi theater, and so he built her a saimin stand.”

PK: “When my grandmother had her little saimin stand, the steamships would come in late at night, so my grandma would make them beef stew…It’s a very catchy name.”

JK: “Mid Nite Inn, but we close at 9 p.m.”

Through three generations of family ownership, the Mid Nite Inn enjoyed different eras of use.

Initially, Hisae Kikukawa ran a seamstress shop from above the restaurant, in addition to an orchid business with three hot houses.

Art Kikukawa, a combat veteran with the 442nd Infantry in World War II, came home from war to run the restaurant after his father became ill.

PK: “I couldn’t believe how hard they worked…[Art] would go to the slaughterhouse and pick up a half a cow, put it in the back of his station wagon, take it to the Mid Nite Inn. He’d take a bandsaw and he would use every piece…I learned from that generation to be frugal and not waste anything.”

The back of the Mid Nite Inn changed over the years from horse corral, to four lane bowling alley, to the Hele On Bar.

PK: “One day I go to the restaurant, and they’re tearing out the back, and putting in a bar…I didn’t know what was going on. They were opening the Hele On. The Hele On had its own reputation…Pau Hana, Hele On, Longies, Bamboo Lounge, and Kanemitsu’s, we had five bars that we used to go bar-hopping.”

The building itself had a certain kind of character as well, with a 20 foot long, diesel-fed stove at the heart of the restaurant.

JK: “The hearth was one big piece of iron with a tin heat-rise hood…we sweated a lot behind there.”

The stove created the hot water, feeding three plates and three ovens, with each plate used for a separate kind of food.

JK: “After we got off school, we’d come down to the restaurant. My father had a Formica covered ice cream soda fountain…the soda fountain wasn’t grounded very well, so we used to invite friends over to try it.”

Until it burned down in an electric fire in the early 1990s, the Mid Nite Inn was a key gathering place for senators, visitors and Molokai residents alike.

JK: “We were the central social point on the island…During the Kaiaka Rock fiasco…half of the dining room was for, half was against.”

PK: “Sen. Daniel Inouye used to have his assistant call ahead and make beef stew, [Art Kikukawa and Inouye] were in the 442nd infantry together…It was such a big thing for them to get together.”

JK: “In one of the final days of the restaurant, Sen. John McCain came and sat down in booth 22.”

JK: “Our life was naïve in a sense, small. But the mixture of people on this island made it big. We got to meet all kinds of people.

PK: “I learned you have to talk story…you find out some amazing things.”


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