How Canadian Restaurant Hy’s Steakhouse Ended Up in Waikīkī, Hawai‘i

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It wasn’t lengthy after opening in downtown Calgary in 1955 that Hy’s Steakhouse turned synonymous with Alberta meals tradition. The province’s cattle farms are identified worldwide for the standard of their meat, accounting for half of Canada’s beef manufacturing; they’re a serious a part of the realm’s agricultural trade and broader tradition. The late Hy Aisenstat made his restaurant right into a midcentury nexus for that carnivorous tradition.

Stiff-collared businessmen flocked to Hy’s for lunch conferences and glad hours, making offers from thickly upholstered chairs within the low-lit, wood-paneled eating room. Beneath an ornate cover, the restaurant’s chef cooked steak after steak on a chalice-shaped grill, a focus verging on a shrine.

A black and white photo of a man with thick-rimmed glasses chomping on a cigar.

Hy Aisenstat.
Hy’s Steakhouse

A jockey with a horse, caped in a red covering with the words Champion The Hy’s Steak, stand next to two men in suits, including Hy Aisenstat who holds a large trophy.

Hy Aisenstat together with his present leaping horse on the Spruce Meadows grand prix occasion, which he sponsored.
Hy’s Steakhouse

Three servers in tuxedos in an old photograph.

Servers Bonnie Fong, Peter Ormsby, and Bob Shachtay.
Hy’s Steakhouse.

An old, black and white photograph of a party of four dressed in suits and dresses for dinner at a restaurant.

Hy and Barbara Aisenstat with household, Jack and Alice Shatz.
Hy’s Steakhouse

The restaurant finally expanded with places in Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Whistler, and beef continues to be an enormous deal in Alberta. However Calgary’s eating scene has moved on previously 15 years, evolving past its cow city status — and the luxurious trappings of machismo that outlined Hy’s. The vibe is totally totally different at newer icons of the Calgary eating scene like River Café, which opened within the ’90s, the place the kitchen’s native, sustainable ethos is echoed in a naturalist aesthetic of tall home windows, wiry farmhouse chairs, and an expansive patio. Within the many years which have adopted, locations like Alloy (ornamental cherry blossoms, pink partitions), Mannequin Milk (ethereal, multilevel eating areas), and Sukiyaki Home (sushi counter displaying seafood flown in from Japan) — which provide experiences devoid of steak and ornate darkish wooden — have continued to vary what diners anticipate of tremendous eating.

Although particular events convey visitors again to Hy’s for tableside steak Diane ready by servers in butcher jackets, the Calgary restaurant has needed to sustain with the instances with a brand new look. After shuttering following a ultimate New Yr’s Eve in 2006 when its lease ended, the restaurant returned eight years later within the downtown core as a “up to date” steakhouse. Gone are the library-esque rooms, changed by a modern, principally black inside, modernist lighting fixtures, double-height plush banquettes, a glass-enclosed prep space, and some TVs. The one proof of the outdated vibe is an accent wall within the lounge lined with framed classic pictures and newspaper clippings.

However one location, a lot farther west, has remained stubbornly true to Aisenstat’s authentic imaginative and prescient: Hy’s Steak Home in Waikīkī, Hawai‘i.

Initially opened in 1976 as a partnership between Aisenstat and restaurateur Rod Gardiner, the tropical location of the chain adopted the preliminary success of one other co-owned enterprise enterprise, Kobe Japanese Steak Home, additionally in Waikīkī, which closed in 2020. (The restaurateurs operated each Hy’s and Kobe in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, respectively, as nicely.) In accordance with Aisenstat’s son, Hy’s present president and CEO, Neil Aisenstat, Hy Aisenstat merely cherished Honolulu, as common a journey vacation spot for households in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan because the mainland U.S.

A large hunk of steak with a baked potato and mixed vegetables.

How the steak is wanting today at Hy’s Waikīkī.
Martha Cheng

Just like the Canadian Hy’s, the Hawai‘i location presents a style of yesteryear, with a wide range of steaks, midcentury classics, and dishes ready tableside. The choices embody nods to native tastes and elements: a sashimi platter, a Coco Aloha cocktail, meat cooked over native kiawe wooden. Within the Seventies, the menus cross-pollinated; a Canadian menu from the time marketed grilled mahimahi as a “very good Hawaiian fish, treasured by gourmets the world over.”

The design of the Hawai‘i location is hanging; it has averted the updates that diluted the Canadian places. At the moment the Honolulu restaurant — designed by Arthur Fishman, additionally behind the unique Calgary and Vancouver places — seems charmingly frozen in time. It nonetheless sits at its authentic residence, on the base of the Waikiki Park Heights Lodge, and the inside is essentially unchanged.

“The phrase ‘time capsule’ is an excellent approach to describe the inside of Hy’s,” says Bob Panter, the restaurant’s longest-running worker, who began in 1977 as a busser and now works as a visitor relations supervisor. “Intricate woodwork from the Baldwin Property in Philadelphia traces our partitions. A Tiffany stained glass ceiling from a chapel in Baltimore, Maryland, illuminates one among our eating rooms. Cabinets of vintage books accent numerous nook sales space seatings.”

Diners sit in curved wood chairs at tables set with white tablecloths, among walls of books, chandeliers, and carved ornamental wood.

The eating room at Hy’s Waikīkī at this time.
Martha Cheng

A luxe steakhouse interior with plush red banquettes, wide leather chairs, modern pendant light fixtures, and large pop-ish art on dark walls.

The trendy Hy’s Steakhouse in Calgary.
Todd Korol

A library-like interior with patterned carpet flooring, curved leather chairs, white tablesclothes, ornate sconces, and hanging potted plants.

Inside Hy’s Waikīkī at this time.
Hy’s Steak Home Waikiki

A large wine vault with glass windows displaying bottles, which curves toward a seating area set beneath a wall of memorabilia and news clippings.

Partitions of wine and historical past at Hy’s in Calgary.
Todd Korol

Although Hawai‘i does have its personal lengthy historical past of cattle ranching tradition — influenced extra by Mexican vaqueros than by the American West — by the Seventies, Honolulu was a leisure-focused city, the place the cliched concept of a laid-back, tropical paradise impressed tourist-facing companies. The Hy’s idea may appear anachronistic in that ambiance. Removed from the tradition that birthed the model initially, it’s hanging that the restaurant discovered long-term success with its darkish wooden, throwback masculine vibes, and meaty extra.

Whereas the steakhouse did initially attraction to mainland vacationers craving one thing acquainted in a far-off place, it was locals who made it a stalwart of the eating scene. “When it first opened, it was prominently serving vacationers, as you’d anticipate from a brand new enterprise. Nevertheless, as locals slowly found Hy’s, they fell in love with the atmosphere and repair,” Panter says. “They saved coming again and sharing their tales with household and buddies. In flip, they might go and expertise Hy’s for themselves, and the cycle continued. I’ve watched generations come by way of these doorways.”

Panter explains that the restaurant’s house owners have modified over time, however the aesthetic has remained intact. Within the early Nineteen Eighties, Gardiner and Japan-based restaurant proprietor Yoshitaro Kawakami purchased Aisenstat out of his working shares, and in 1992 bought the restaurant fully. Though the transition might have signaled change, none got here. Kawakami had his personal causes for conserving Hy’s because it was.

“We’ve seen a continuing circulation of Asian vacationers, [but when Kawakami purchased the restaurant], our Asian vacationer base grew,” explains Panter. “The inside of Hy’s is so totally different from what’s present in Asia.” The Japan-based G.Lion Group took over from Kawakami in 2011 and maintained course, even utilizing Hy’s as inspiration for the group’s Akarenga Steak Home in Osaka, Japan.

Martha Cheng, a daily Eater contributor (and generally editor) in Honolulu, argues that locals additionally applaud Hy’s for its longevity. Age itself has nearly change into the restaurant’s raison d’etre over time.

“I believe Hawai‘i is especially good at preserving the outdated. Hy’s isn’t the one instance of a enterprise that’s frozen in time in Hawai‘i whereas elsewhere they modernize,” Cheng says, pointing to century-old mochi store Nisshodo Sweet Retailer and different enduring storefronts. “There’s such an affinity to [the original incarnation of these stores]. Even within the case of Lengthy’s Medicine, whereas the remainder of the nation’s places at the moment are CVS, ours continues to be referred to as Lengthy’s.”

She provides that North Individuals who don’t name Hawai‘i residence appear to overlook that individuals truly stay in Honolulu and Waikīkī. So whereas Hy’s doesn’t essentially match a customer’s concept of eating in Hawai‘i, native residents embrace it as a long-standing a part of the group, simply as a lot as poke outlets and diners.

Cheng additionally cites the impact of Japanese tourism, particularly following the restaurant’s 2011 acquisition. “The Japanese are additionally good at preserving nostalgia,” says Cheng. “For Japanese vacationers, Hawai‘i isn’t only a ‘seashore paradise.’ I believe the tradition right here can be a draw, and meals is an enormous a part of that.”

Although the evolutionary branches between the Waikīkī and Canadian places have unfold aside within the many years because the companies separated, Neil Aisenstat loves the chance to go to the Hawai‘i restaurant. “We’ve positively advanced, and I suppose taking a look at Hy’s in Hawai‘i, it has not been vital for them,” he says. Every time he will get the possibility to go to the Hawai‘i steakhouse, he appears to be like ahead to menu objects that Canadian places have cycled out over time, particularly the tableside cherries jubilee (at present off the menu as a consequence of provide chain points).

Newer steakhouses throughout North America — Chicago’s Trivoli Tavern, Born and Raised in San Diego, Vancouver’s Elisa — emulate the midcentury glamour of locations like Hy’s. This homage can act as a boon to these few authentic eating places which have managed to carry out by way of many years of tendencies and client shifts. “It’s just like the Home of Prime Rib in San Francisco, the place I’m from. Rising up, you may simply stroll in with no reservation. Now, it’s one of many hardest tables to get on the town,” says Cheng.

Diners search to recapture the kind of eating opulence that has change into rarer within the many years because the heyday of Calgary’s authentic Hy’s. What’s outdated is new once more. But it surely’s ironic for a restaurant like Hy’s Waikīkī, which initially set vacationers from the mainland comfy with acquainted meals and atmosphere, to change into an unique expertise for contemporary diners. That is very true for patrons visiting from Canada, who acknowledge a well-recognized identify and obtain a completely totally different expertise from that of the up to date chain again residence. It’s but one more reason, in a protracted line of causes over time, for Hy’s Waikīkī to maintain issues the identical.

Dan Clapson is a columnist for The Globe and Mail and a culinary skilled on many Canadian tv and radio applications. He’s the co-owner of Calgary’s The Prairie Emporium, and most not too long ago, a No. 1 bestselling Canadian creator following the discharge of his debut cookbook Prairie in late summer time 2023.

A vintage photograph of diners sitting in a round green booth watching a waiter flambe a dish at the table.

A shot from a 1997 calendar from Hy’s Waikiki.
Hy’s Steak Home Waikiki



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