An Upbeat Attitude At Downbeat Diner

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 21, 2011
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Serena Hashimoto at Downbeat Diner. Jo McGarry photo

Serena Hashimoto’s lack of restaurant experience didn’t deter her when she was faced with an opportunity to open a diner on Hotel Street.

“I’m a great believer in serendipity,” she says. “I believe if you have an idea and are committed to it, the universe lines up.”

If the whole idea of a diner on Hotel Street strikes you as incongruous, then you should take a trip to see what’s happening along this highly vibrant and energetic street.

Tattoo parlors, art and yoga studios, restaurants, designer stores, eclectic bars and some of the best pizza makers in Honolulu have turned downtown Honolulu into the happening place to eat, drink and be urban. Here, amid the lingering seedy bars and ongoing renovations, Hashimoto and partner Josh Hancock saw a vision for their diner.

“Every metropolitan city has a late-night diner,” she says, “a place to go eat hash browns and eggs after a concert or a night out. We wanted to create that place.”

And while finding the right location took almost a year, when the former Thai restaurant on Hotel Street turned up, it seemed tailor-made.

“We saw it and knew right away it was the diner,” she says.

Amid a whirlwind of fundraising to pay the rent and hard work to change the décor, Downbeat Diner opened for business just one month after Hashimoto signed the lease. One year later, business is strong and the customer base is growing.

Go for a Breakfast Sandwich of scrambled eggs, American cheese and bacon ($7.50) at 3 a.m., Chicken and Waffles ($9.50) all day, or choose from a wide selection of sandwiches, salads and burgers served from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. And there’s an unusual twist to the menu: Everything (apart from chicken wings and mozzarella cheese sticks) can be served as a vegetarian or vegan option.

Hashimoto’s idea is to offer an American-style menu to anyone regardless of food preferences.

“I believe our vegan chicken sandwiches are actually one of our strongest menu items,” she says.

With booths, a small bar and windows that front one of the more colorful people-watching streets in town, Downbeat is home to more than all-day breakfasts and an inexpensive option for lunch or latenight dining.

“It’s a really democratic place,” says Hashimoto with a broad smile. “The other day I was sitting watching, and there was a table of cops having breakfast, a table of business people having lunch, a table of skateboarders and a group of just regular 50-something people. That’s exactly what we wanted it to be.”

If you work Downtown and are looking for an inexpensive lunch (salads start at $5, Loco Moco is $8), it’s worth the extra block or two walk from Alakea or Bishop; for those looking for a pau hana stop where creative cocktails (Guinness Float, anyone?) are served from a lively corner bar, then the little diner on Hotel Street might just be the place.

Open from 11 a.m. until 4 a.m. on weekends and until around 2 most weeknights, Downbeat offers more than good food and a welcome individuality; amid its veggie chicken, bourbon-soaked apple pie and arty decor, it offers hope to those with visions of opening a restaurant on a shoestring and surviving to tell the tale.

Happy eating!

Downbeat Diner and Lounge

42 N Hotel St. 533-BEAT

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