Darren Asato

Jo McGarry photo

Captain, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, Waikiki

Where were you born and raised? I was born in Okinawa – my dad was in the military – but pretty much raised here.

What inspired your career in the food and beverage industry? My younger brother got into the industry first and he was making good money, and so it seemed like an obvious place to head. My first job was as valet at the old Trattoria in Waikiki, and from there I started to work my way through busboy, waiter. It’s been more than 22 years now, and I’ve always worked in Waikiki.

A lot of local people find Waikiki and the tourists tough. You obviously like it. Yeah, I do. I think the fact that people are on vacation – they are here to have fun – they’re not stressed, it makes for a good environment.

What kind of changes have you seen in the Waikiki restaurant scene in two decades? It seems right now that it’s definitely getting back to about 20 years ago, where it’s not just so much about Japanese tourists. Now it’s China, Korea … and I’ve noticed that, as a vacation destination, Hawaii has adapted. People know we’re not just about palm trees and hula dancers, but we have up-market shopping and dining. People have very high expectations of Waikiki today.

Wolfgang’s has been busy ever since it opened its doors. What’s the secret for survival in such a tough business? Wolfgang’s has only gotten better and better since we opened. It’s a unique experience that’s upscale but at the same time really just based on a New York steakhouse. I love all steakhouses, and we have some great ones in Hawaii, but I can honestly say that we have an outstanding product in our steak. And Wolfgang’s is very masculine. If you want to impress a woman, you can go to lots of places; if you want to impress a man, you bring him to Wolfgang’s.

Do you still cook steak at home? (laughs) Yeah, I still do. I did worry that working here would make me sick of it, but I still enjoy eating steak. Marinated, barbecued chicken is my specialty at home, though.

What’s always in your fridge? I suppose the sexy answer would be craft beers and good cheese, but in reality it’s Diet Pepsi and Gatorade.

The service at Wolfgang’s often seems flawless, and you have among the highest number of guests per night in any restaurant in Hawaii. How do you guys do it? It might be hard to believe, but we have such a good system – from the menu to how everything has been thought out – that it’s really hard to mess it up!

What’s your recommendation from the menu? I’m a real ribeye fan, but I always say to people, if you come to Wolfgang’s, have the sirloin. The flavor profile is so great. I really think it’s our best steak. Ribeye lovers are usually amazed at how good it is.

Where do you go to hang out for a change of pace?

One of my friends has a little bar, Scores, near Restaurant Row. That’s where I go to relax.