Honolulu in the 1920s and 1930s was an amalgam of cultures—Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, Caucasians, Filipinos, and Portuguese. Under the shadow of Diamond Head, a mile from Waikiki Beach, a small neighborhood had regular “block parties” where the “ohana” (Hawaiian for families) would come together and share food, fellowship, and fun.
William A. “Bill” Kanakanui, who sometimes hosted music sing-a-longs at his home, was a regular contributor to the block parties. His special recipe for teriyaki sauce, handed down from his father, was a popular choice for marinating steak, chicken, and ribs. When cooked on a grill, the sauce would caramelize and provide a distinct smoky, yet sweet, flavor – “ono ono!” (Hawaiian for absolutely delicious).
Bill’s youngest son, Richard, took the recipe with him as he made his way to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Later, as he courted a girl in West Virginia, Richard introduced the recipe to his future in-laws and extended family. When asked if the West Virginians thought the sauce was “exotic,” Richard replied, “No, they just thought it was good!”
There were four Kanakanui children born to Richard and his wife, Judy. Photographs from the early 60s show the children enjoying teriyaki spareribs as prepared by their father. As the children grew up and created their own lives from California to West Virginia and North Carolina, they all impressed their friends with this special family teriyaki recipe. Spareribs in Los Angeles, steaks in West Virginia, chicken and ribs in North Carolina—and one of the constant comments was, “Wow, this sauce is great —why don’t you bottle it? I could drink it straight from the bottle!”
In fact, some family members bottled the teriyaki as gifts during the holidays for friends and colleagues for many years. “Let me know if you ever sell this and I’ll be your first customer,” was a common refrain from the lucky recipients.
Finally, with the Kanakanui children on board, and with the blessings of dad Richard, Truly Hawaiian was launched in late 2008.