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Dry Idea: The story behind Maui's favorite noodle dish, Sam Sato's dry mein

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Said Toma, “The secret is in the dough.”

Sam and Gladys Sato continued to talk story with customers and work in the restaurant through the 1980s, when Lynne and Charles Toma (Kirk’s parents) took over. Gladys Sato passed away in 1989, and Sam eight years later.

These days, Kirk is charged with making the dough for the manju; Charles makes the fillings while Lynne usually takes over the side dashi and mixing the top-secret sauce for the dry mein. Kirk, who will be the third-generation owner of Sam Sato’s when his parents retire, plans to make sure his family’s legacy remains a part of life on Maui for years to come.

“There are a lot of mom-and-pop [businesses] closing left and right and we’re still here,” said Kirk. “We have a lot of people from the Mainland who come every year, or college kids who come back on their breaks to eat here. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to take over: to keep this going.”

Our wait outside finally over, we were seated in Sam Sato’s main dining area, packed with hungry patrons. Many knew the servers by name. Most were eating bowls of dry mein paired with grilled teriyaki beef skewers, a favorite local pairing with saimin. Others were feasting on hamburger and fries combos and plates of chopped steak, teriyaki beef, hamburger steak or beef tomato, a sugar-plantation-era dish with Chinese origins.

Still, it was clear that noodles—dry mein, in particular—will likely always rule the menu at Sam Sato’s. 

“People just like noodles,” said Kirk Toma. “Noodles are our comfort food.”  

Sam Sato's
1750 WIli Pa Loop, Wailuku, Maui • (808) 244-7124

Photos: Nina Kuna

(This feature was originally published in the November/December 2013 issue of HAWAII Magazine.)

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
How to make Hawaii-style saimin broth (and mail order Hawaii noodles on the Mainland)
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