By Lexus Yamashiro | Staff Writer
Since graduating from Kaimukī High School in 2010, Kei Yoshida has been working at his family restaurant, Menchanko-Tei, since 2011 as the head chef. After being out of school for five years, the 25-year-old decided in 2015 that he return to school to pursue a degree that would focus on all of his interests and connections with the restaurant.
In his third year at UH Mānoa, Yoshida (who is also dual enrolled at KCC) at first felt that having to choose between majors such as Hospitality, Culinary, and Business in connection with the family restaurant would be impractical to his learning style and his ideals of earning a degree.
“It’s not the degree that I’m after, it’s more of ‘What can I use?'” Yoshida said.
This led to his decision of becoming a Communicology major, which Yoshida said focuses on “psychology and speech, mixed in with hospitality,” essentially being three subject areas that connect with his interests.
Although working mainly in the kitchen of the restaurant, located at 903 Ke‘eaumoku St., Yoshida heavily integrates his Communicology studies into customer service, expressing the significant impact that waiters and waitresses can have upon customers through verbal and non-verbal communication.
“Human interaction is something that nobody is perfect at. The way you walk sends a message to people,” Yoshida said. “Like, how important is a smile? Communicology is all about those things.”
Menchanko-Tei is owned by Yoshida’s mother Yuko and grandmother Michiko Ishige. Together, Yoshida, his wife Joann, and one other kitchen member work to stabilize the quality and conditions of the restaurant’s menu items, especially after recently taking in part of another restaurant’s menu, Gomaichi Ramen.
Gomaichi Ramen, another Japanese restaurant that was located about three blocks away from Menchanko-Tei, closed permanently in December 2017 after plans to construct a condominium over its land was put into effect. After being presented with five offers from other restaurants, owners Hiroyuki and Reiko Kimura decided to pass on their recipes to Yoshida due to the convenient location of Menchanko-Tei, Yoshida’s constant ramen visits to their restaurant since middle school, and because of the similar menu items that both restaurants serve.
Around April, Yoshida will become the owner of Menchanko-Tei and continue running the family business, hopeful that the restaurant will continue to thrive with the advantage of Gomaichi Ramen’s recipes.
For Joann, who has been working as the cook for five years in Menchanko-Tei, stabilizing and keeping the consistency in the flavor, appearance, and portion is what she said conveys to customers the attitude and effort the restaurant is putting in for those who coming in to pay for good food.
“I always go through everything and I got to make sure it comes out correctly and looks nice when it comes out… it has to be appetizing to the eyes as well,” Joann said. “The Japanese say that you eat with your eyes first and then you eat it and then it tastes good.”
In regards to the restaurant’s menu items, Yoshida is constantly looking for moments to improve in stabilizing the food quality without changing the portions and flavors.
“People come in hungry, so their mood is not the best mood. It’s our job to make them go out of the restaurant happy, and one way is [through] food,” Yoshida said.
As Menchanko-Tei serves Gomaichi Ramen’s menu items that fed customers for more than 20 years, Yoshida hopes that improvements in the menu items quality will work hand-in-hand with both restaurant’s food served while keeping customers satisfied.
“If something could be replicated more accurately each time we make it, then I’ll implement those changes,” Yoshida said. “The most important thing that a restaurant is obligated to do, basically, is to keep the same taste and proportions. That’s why I say Communicology is really helpful. The way you talk to your customers, how you talk to your neighbors, how you respect every single person is the most important thing you can do as a person.”