After telling a bit of the history of Kaaawa’s Crouching Lion restaurant in a recent post, I decided to follow-up with another dose of island restaurant history.
One thing that isn’t often fully appreciated is the role the military buildup in Hawaii during WWII contributed to the later directions in Honolulu dining.
My dad arrived in Hawaii on May Day in 1939. He was 25 years old at the time, and had a job waiting for him at the local office of the San Francisco-based Dohrmann Hotel Supply Company.
The food service business at that time was all about the military.
When my dad was in his mid-90s, he typed out descriptions of his work in those early days, when he was expected to go out and drum up business from military buyers.
My new assignment took me to Fort DeRussy, where five Army companies lined the Kalia Road area, each with their own kitchen and mess halls.
Fort Ruger, located on the back side of Diamond Head, was the other base in town. It had four companies stationed there, each with mess halls, kitchens, and orderly rooms.
On the other end of town there was Tripler General Hospital fronting Fort Shafter, a major facility with a large number of mess halls, offices, and parade grounds as well as officers and NCO clubs.
Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor were major calls and fitted with a Marine Corps company as well as the multitude of offices, cafeterias and clubs found in naval and air corps bases. Between Pearl Harbor and Schofield, there were no other military facilities. THe main road to Schofield was a two lane highway.
Schofield was located in a city town as Wahiawa but Schofield was the main activity there, a group of four quadrangles, each with sixteen Army companies fitted with mess halls, barracks, and orderly rooms.
To properly cover this area, one man could spend a week making required contacts. Each company had their own company fund and made purchases of products that were not government issue. The area was being worked only by one competitive organization at the time and was a lucrative territory. Hurd Polman was the name of the competitor who had a truck fitted with many of the items normally required by the Army mess halls.
I soon learned that cutlery was a popular item as every cook in every kitchen wanted their own set of knives. The cutlery case made up by Russell Harrington Cutlery Company become one of the more popular items I would carry on my weekly calls. I called it my “friendship maker”.
Those rapidly growing military bases with their hundreds of kitchens, mess halls, clubs for officers, non-commissioned officers, and enlisted men, bars, cafeterias, and similar facilities, produced their own army of food service veterans, many of whom stayed around in Hawaii and grew their own restaurants in the postwar period.
My dad told the story of one of those, Peter Canlis.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the facilities at Pearl Harbor, Schofield, Hickam and elsewhere were being bolstered, while others were being created. Barbers Point Naval Air Station was developed. The radio station at Lualualei was commissioned and rest and recreation facilities set up throughout Honolulu. The Armed Services YMCA was developed.
Peter Canlis, an employee of a suitcase and shoe supply company whose parents had operated a food establishment in San Francisco, was put in charge of the food facility there. We worked with him on the design of the kitchen and dining room. That food operation became a popular spot for civilian as well as military use. It was super and Peter Canlis became popular as a result.
Following the war, Peter decided he was going to open his own restaurant. We were friends from Junior Chamber of Commerce activity and over several nights on my living room floor we made layouts of his proposed first Honolulu location in a small bungalow across the street from Kuhio Beach.
It was a small place with a few tables and chairs but a huge broiler visible to the guests from the dining room. Candlelight was used on the tables and the china, glass, and silverware were the best that could be found. From the first night he opened, the place was filled and was considered “the place to go”. It wasn’t cheap but it was good, and Peter was always on hand to greet his guests.
In 1954, Canlis opened his iconic Canlis Broiler at 2100 Kalakaua.
As late as 1985, it was described in a New York Times story as “a dependable old favorite with excellent food and service at moderate prices….”
I recall my parents taking us all to eat at Canlis on special occasions as a kid. I vividly remember being unhappy at having to “dress up” when we went there, as they had a dress code calling for coats and ties.
But, according to the NY Times story: ” It abruptly dropped its strict jacket-and-tie rule after King Hussein of Jordan and his entourage, unaware of the regulation, showed up one night in aloha shirts.”
Despite their long association, there weren’t many photos of Canlis among my dad’s memorabilia. He said Canlis actively shied away from cameras and, as a result, photos of him aren’t common.
Here’s one, taken at a meeting of the Geneva Club in Honolulu, probably somewhere in the late 1940s or early 50s. The Geneva organization was made up of chefs and others in the culinary and food & beverage service world.
Canlis is second from the right with a big smile. Next to him, on the far right, is Donn Beach, made famous by his Don the Beachcomber restaurants. Ed Kina, executive chef at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, is at the center. And my dad, John Lind, is on the far left.
An earlier photo was taken at the Pacific Club during a January 22, 1941 awards banquet sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Honolulu.
I found the photo back in 2009 or so when my dad was in a local nursing home, suffering from dementia and other maladies. The day I brought the photo to his bedside, he couldn’t find his glasses, and had trouble seeing the photo. But he had no trouble recalling that he sat across the table from Canlis.
So I enlarged this second section of the photo. My dad is on the far side of the table, second from the left. And across the table is Peter Canlis. He’s the third person from the far right (second visible face from the right), his left hand extending towards the camera behind the back of the man next to him.
Both Canlis and my dad certainly look like they were having a good time.
In any case, it was certainly an interesting and dynamic time in Hawaii history.