Garret Kamei

Jo McGarry photo

General Manager,
the Willows restaurant

Were you born and raised here? Born in Honolulu, went to Kailua High School and then to UH-Manoa to study business.

Was your intent to go into the food and beverage industry? Not initially, but I grew to love it, as most people do. My first job was as a busboy at Oahu Country Club. I really would hate to tell you how long ago.

Was cooking a big part of your family life? My mom and my grandmother always cooked for us, and to this day I still go home as often as I can for a home-cooked meal!

What’s something you get at your mom’s that no one else can make? Oh, her nishime. It’s the best.

Do you cook at home for your wife and children? No. (laughs) I am always here. I eat here and practically sleep here! I have no time to cook.

So I’m guessing what’s in your fridge are lots of takeout boxes from the Willows. Yes, you’re right (laughs). Leftovers. I eat beef stew here almost every day – it’s so good. And my wife and kids love me to bring home leftovers once in a while.

Favorite places to eat on the rare occasions you’re not here? I love sushi. Gaku is a favorite … but recently I’ve really been eating here all the time! The Willows is a great place to eat. We have a new chef, a whole new menu … customers who’ve known the Willows are coming back to see the new chef and the new buffet, and the results are so positive.

For a while there was a fine-dining restaurant upstairs at the Willows.

Yeah, but one of the reasons that was tough was because people going to the fine-dining restaurant would walk through the buffet first, be tempted by the food and just stay and eat there!

It’s challenging to run a place where you have literally hundreds and sometimes thousands of people coming through the doors in a day. People come here to celebrate important events, so it’s a big responsibility to make sure that they consistently have a great time. It makes for fun work, though.

If you could be anything in life, what would it be? A professional surfer. I’m not good enough to be pro, but I love it.

Anything about you that might surprise people? (Long pause) I enjoy show tunes. (Laughs). My favorite movie is The Sound of Music.

Oh, you’re kidding. Years ago, when I interviewed Dean Okimoto (of Nalo Farms), he said the same thing. What’s with that movie and you guys? It’s such a good movie. I’ve seen it more than 20 times, and would watch it again anytime. When the kids were little I would sing them all the songs. They seemed to like it then.

But not so much now? No, not so much. Now they realize I can’t sing.