Have you ever tried to save someone a plate of food, only to sneak some bites, and then eat the whole thing? I totally have to come clean: The first time I went by to try Keyakiya, they made me some of their eponymous signature chicken and I tried my hardest to save some for my husband. But before he saw what was in that takeout container, it was long gone. Keyakiya is a food truck created by Yoshie and Yasunao Keyaki, who goes by Yasu. It is a bright orange truck that parks just outside the Kahului Harbor. They specialize in Japanese comfort food, the kind you can’t stop eating.
“We have the Keyakiya chicken, that is our signature fried chicken,” says Yasu. “Another one of our most popular dishes is wagyu beef curry. Curry is one of the Japanese comfort foods. Japanese people love curries. Our salmon is good: It is Ora King salmon from New Zealand. The katsu cutlet is good. We use rice bran oil. It is very crisp and clean and no extra stuff in it. I care for health. I make whatever I can eat everyday. That is my goal. Before opening I was cooking at Nuka for four years. I ran their hot food kitchen. Over here I do more of whatever I ate as I was growing up.”
When I met Yoshie and Yasu of Keyakiya, it was their first day launching on Bite Squad, and they were slammed. They had Japanese tourists lined up, folks working the Geste Shrimp Truck were grabbing food, and a number of regulars came by too. This was all happening at non-rush time for Keyakiya after 2pm.
“After I finished high school in Japan, I landed in LA,” says Yasu. “I grew up in a small town in the city of Kanazawa. I always wanted to see how life looked in the big city and I am a rock and roller so I decided to come LA. I started as a dish washer and after I become line cook, waiter, host, cashier, manager… I did everything you can think of in a restaurant except being an owner. After several years I moved to New York City to one of the most competitive culinary scenes in the world.”
Yasu worked at Sushi Gen in LA where he paid his dues. When he moved to New York he met Yoshie. But Yasu realized the rush of the restaurant world is not for everyone.
“Life in restaurants is not always healthy,” says Yasu. “Especially when you work at a high paced, high volume restaurant. It is a lot of sacrifice on your body and mind. I was very tired in New York City. I met Yoshie there and we decided to get married on Maui. She likes Hawai‘i, and because I was in New York and my family was in Japan, Maui is in the middle. I never visited Maui before the wedding. I had no idea how many islands, I had only heard of Waikiki. I visited Maui, and then I felt like, ‘Oh this is the place I have to live.’ Then I joined Nuka.”
Still, Yasu dreamt of creating his own style of cuisine, and working on his own recipes.
“Working at big fancy place and small fancy place, I realized I wanted to go back to my original roots,” says Yasu. “Because I left my country when I was young, making these dishes now reminds me of how I grew up. There is not much traditional Japanese cuisine found here. When you go to hotels and restaurants you find a lot of fusion, Pacific rim cuisine. I don’t find any authentic kind of Japanese cuisine. I felt like I had to do something with my experience.”
Yasu and Yoshie opened the food truck in September of 2018
“Now we wake up with the sun and sleep with the stars, working side by side, having a wonderful time together,” says Yasu. “We have freedom and we are also very close to our customers. When you cook in a closed kitchen, there is not a lot of information as to what’s going on in the dining room. We don’t have fancy plating or we don’t need knowledgeable wait staff. What we have is a personal relationship with our customers at the food truck.”
Yasu makes his dashi from scratch everyday, and makes his comfort menu from the best ingredients he can obtain. His menu has donburi, tempura, udon, bento plates, furikake fries, and specials. The attention to detail on all the items in the bentos are fantastic; the greens and seaweed salads, the salted cabbage salads aren’t mentioned on the menu but I appreciate them in conjunction with the whole experience. I also like their container sizes. They’re smaller than the usual 9-inch square takeouts, but the space is utilized better, and the amount of food you are getting is plenty.
“When people come to my truck I want them to feel like it’s not the first time,” says Yasu. “I want them to feel connected from the service to food. Good food makes people’s lives richer. I put 100 percent into each and every dish because each and every guest makes our living possible every day. Not knowledge or technique, but heart. I consider myself not a chef but everyday cook. It’s a lot of work but I am very happy.”