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Lifestyle // Island Matters
Mufi Hannemann

Gung Ho For Garage, Restaurant

Wally Ho’s Garage & Grill is an ideal one-stop shop where you can rehaul your car and at the same time feast on “loco moco.” So if you’re looking to jump-start your day, take a drive to the Aiea eatery on Kamehameha Highway and experience for yourself what the mouth-watery hype is all about.

Originally a landmark gas station in 1956, Wally Ho’s has found a unique way for the business to survive and thrive.

On one side of his establishment, his son Timmy oversees the garage and is in charge of safety check inspections.

On the other side, daughters Sheldene Maze and Maydene Ching are frying up Korean Garlic Chicken in the kitchen and mastering other delectable “fluids” to quench your thirst.

His other son Mason runs the grill.

Today, their patrons enjoy “broke da mouth” international cuisine specials that include Okinawan Shoyu Pork, Kalua Pig on Bun with Hoi Sin Sauce, Fried Poke and Mochiko Chicken.

Wally and wife Louise stopped pumping gas in 1996 and overhauled the landmark into the business it is today.

“We stopped selling gas because it would have been too costly to repair and replace our tank. The new environmental law had tougher requirements,” said Wally.

Daughter Colleen adds, “Family members had to look for employment elsewhere so my late sister Willette came up with the restaurant idea due to her passion for the food business. Mixing an auto repair shop and a grill was a way to keep the family together and our new business afloat,” explains Colleen, who does the bookkeeping.

As the family said goodbye to pumping gas, they found another use for gas to grill the juiciest flame-broiled burgers and create famous dishes and desserts such as Eggplant on a Homemade Taro Bun, Lilikoi/Lemon Bars and Banana Bread.

Wally’s longtime employee Sung Ahn also pitches in as an auto technician. He is part of the ohana as he happens to be Colleen’s boyfriend.

But it is Wally’s wife Louise who is the heart of the family and the glue that holds them together to keep garage and grill running.

Though she and Wally are now retired, he remains the “commander in chief” of the entire operation.

“We still do exactly what he wants us to do,” Colleen says. As the popular sitcom of yesteryear reminds us, “Father Knows Best.”

Wally has nearly 65 years of business experience.

“I was originally a meat cutter for my dad at Willy’s Market in the 1950s, and I learned from him that a family that works together stays together. My kids are all bosses of their own sections, so they cannot get into trouble or be fired,” jokes Wally.

He says his kids are happy and still gung “Ho” about each other.

Their formula for success and happiness is a combination of ohana loyalty, strong work ethic and exceptional customer service. “The main thing is we laugh and work together, we can pay our bills and pay ourselves. It’s not about survival, it’s about keeping each other close and satisfying our customers,” said Colleen.

The Ho’s “one team” approach is adopted from one of Wally’s heroes in life, Iolani’s legendary football coach Father Bray, for whom Wally played in high school. Wally teaches his family not to be “individuals greedy for individual honors but members of a team eager for team achievement.”

The repair shop is rated one of the best on Oahu and the grill side is fast becoming a popular eatery specializing in catering, hearty plate lunches, contemporary vegetarian dishes and a family-friendly place, second to none.

Your car gets a tune-up and you can personally fuel up on some ono grinds while you wait.

Wally believes our vehicles are major investments that need routine maintenance, but our bodies also need to be constantly fueled to keep our engines and hearts running so as not to drive on an empty stomach.

“You can’t buy happiness and health with lots of money, but having a wonderful family makes you feel wealthy,” said Wally.

Simple food for thought and a recipe for success that we all should emulate!

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