Kupuna Life: For this kupuna restaurant owner, it’s a family affair

Kupuna Life

 HONOLULU (KHON2) — Although restaurants are starting to reopen to limited dine-in service, they are not out of the woods yet, whether they are relatively new or with a long legacy. Kathy Muneno takes us to one of the latter, where a woman is working hard to keep her family’s legacy alive in Kupuna Life.

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72-year old Choon He “Rose” Chun makes four to 500 mandoo per day, that is thousands per year, and millions over the lifespan of her restaurant, Kim Chee II in Kaimuki.

“We have to make plenty yeah,” said Rose, owner of Kim Chee II.

That is why she came up with her three pinch mandoo, it is fast, and muscle memory doesn’t hurt either.

“This is my life my family life, more than 40 years yeah,” she said. “I was 30 years old I open this one.”

In 1977, three years after Rose and her husband Henry came to Hawai’i from Korea with their two-year-old son Jimmy, Kim Chee II went on to win awards and the hearts of generations of customers.

“Some customer move mainland, they come back one time yeah, they oh my you still make same place I’m so happy I can see you again yeah, then I happy too, you know,” said Rose.

Kawehilani Napoleon Akau, a long time customer, says it is not just the food that draws the public in, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

“When you come to Kim Chee II you feel so special you feel like you’re a part of their family and you feel so happy and the food,” Akai said.

Oh, the food. The portions of mandoo, kalbi, their famous meat jun…

 “Meat jun is something that our family invented some 45 odd years ago,” said Jimmy Chun, Rose’s son.

Jimmy has worked at Kim Chee II since was 16, and after his father passed of cancer 5 years ago, he took over operations.

“First and foremost we want people to buy local, and support our local communities,” Jimmy said. “What she said is perfectly right, it’s our customers who we love, we stay open because we provide a service to them that they enjoy, you know.”

But, like everyone else they say, it has been far from easy to stay open through this pandemic and lockdowns.

 “But sometimes oh maybe I talk to my son, tomorrow, next month, cannot help,” Rose said. “Cannot help cannot help yeah, but we try, we try out best.”

 “We want to survive, it’s just COVID is making everything just really tight so, but we try every day we are here, we ain’t gonna close, we’ll get through COVID together,” Jimmy said.

Kim Chee II is open daily 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Most plates come with a bonus side of Rose’s mandoo.

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