Okazuya are a dying breed of restaurant on Maui, but 40 years ago, they were a major player in grab-and-go food. Mostly run by families, they dotted the landscape in every town, selling bentos, musubi, maki and hot foods to go. The big supermarkets back then were Nagasako, Ooka, Ah Fooks and Shirokiya. While some of those stores may be gone, our desire to eat bento lives on. The two brothers at Maui Chemical and Paper Supply, Todd and Joel Kawasaki, saw this as an opportunity for their own okazuya and Japanese market in Wailuku, which they call TJ’s Warehouse.
“Maui Chemical always had a retail store,”says owner Joel Kawasaki. “In the beginning it started more as a way to showcase our products and grew into a party supply shop. Then when my brother Todd came back from college in 2004/2005. That is when he started overseeing the store and added the bentos and the food. It was part of his masters project. The name TJ’s comes from Todd and Joel.”
TJ’s Warehouse is tucked into industrial Wailuku near restaurant supply stores, caterers, bakeries and auto mechanics. The location has some outdoor seating and the biggest selection of fresh-made bentos on the island. The okazuya opens at 9am Monday through Saturday, but the store itself opens at 7am when the tables are already full of breakfast bentos starting at $3.65–maki sushi rolls and spam musubi, all ready to go.
TJ’s Warehouse has become a mecca for those looking for specialty Japanese products like baked goods, frozen foods, teas, noodles, sauces, candy and liquor. They even have Japanese shampoo, conditioner, cleaning supplies, kitchen gadgets, laundry gadgets, bento boxes, tea pots and toys.
Kawasaki says one of his main purchasers is from Japan. They are always finding new vendors and try a lot of new products all the time, a process he says is just trial and error. They do public tastings at the store about twice a month. Right now, the Christmas gift sets are really popular, and they are prepping for the New Year by bringing in lots of mochi and kadomatsu.
One of the newer products that TJ’s Warehouse has is their weekday poke bowl special for $8.99. They have a seafood market and a poke bar with more than 10 kinds of poke (and seafood salads), at any given moment. To mix things up from their regular poke bowls (priced at $5.49 to $6.99 or $10.99), they offer a special daily deluxe creation. On Monday, for example, the California bowl has rice, California poke, masago, avacado, sesame seeds and Korean nori. On Thursday, the Shoyu Won Ton bowl includes rice, shoyu ahi, shoyu tako, ocean salad, wasabi sauce, won ton chips and bubu arare.
As for hot foods, the chow fun, nishime and roast pork are very popular. Every month showcases a bento special like December’s salmon bento for $6.50. Everything is made in house and their prices are reasonable. After the morning and mid-afternoon bentos are sold out, they bring out wrapped individual servings of chicken katsu, miso butterfish, gyoza, egg rolls, teri beef, yakitori and chicken karaage for the late afternoon and evening rush.
Refrigerated cases offer fresh daifuku, coconut cream mochi and freshly made desserts. They also have Chinese chicken salads, fruit salads, mac salads and salted cabbage. They will also make party trays of all kinds of dishes in all shapes and sizes.
“Maui Chemical have been here for more than 20 years,” says Kawasaki. “The last 10 or so years we have been giving an emphasis on the Japanese products and food side. As we saw the closing of Shirokiya and some of the other stores like Ooka and Ah Fooks, we tried to fill that void and offer some of those oriental products. Our goal is serving the community as best we can. Trying to give them delicious reasonably priced goods everyday. As long as we can provide for our community, that is our number one priority.”
TJ’s Warehouse has a loyalty card you can get in the store, and you can sign up to get their emailed newsletter, or go to their Facebook page to see their latest specials. In February, they do a Customer Appreciation Day with sampling, food giveaways and prizes.
875 Alua St., Wailuku