Thirty-five Years of Long Life and Good Fortune
Jodie Chiemi Ching
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
For many Japanese, noodles are a must-have at New Year’s. Toshikoshi Soba are buckwheat noodles traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve to help you “leap from the old year into the new year.” Noodles in general are also said to symbolize long life.
So, Sun Noodle was destined for a long life and good fortune from the day Hidehito Uki left his hometown of Tochigi in the Kantö area of Japan and arrived in Hawai‘i in 1981. At 19, he could barely speak English. So, he let his noodles do his talking for him by going door-to-door, delivering samples to prospective customers. Each time they gave him some feedback, he returned to his factory, revised his recipe and took it back to the restaurants until he had made them just the way they liked it. Each restaurant had its own preference: One wanted thick noodles, another wanted them thin, still another wavy, another chewy. Uki never said “no” — and that is how he makes noodles even today, more than 45 years after making his first batch of fresh noodles in Hawai‘i: custom-made to his customers’ preference so they can pair it with the right broth.
In time, Uki met and married his wife Keiko, who owned a restaurant near his noodle factory in Kalihi. After marrying, they became a team. He made noodles in the morning and delivered orders in the afternoon while she balanced the books and managed their small staff. Sun Noodle and the Uki family continued to grow.
By the early 1990s, Sun Noodle started shipping its noodles to the West Coast and to Vancouver, Canada. They now had three children: Jamie, Hisae and Kenshiro, who, from a young age, began taste-testing samples, packaging noodles and learning to cook Japanese food.
One opportunity after another presented itself for Sun Noodle. In 2004, the year Kenshiro left for college, the company opened a factory in California. As it turned out, Uki’s timing was perfect. The company began producing noodles for ramen restaurants that were opening up all over the country. The ramen boom was on in big cities like Los Angeles and New York. Another golden opportunity arose for Sun Noodle in Hawai‘i: the chance to purchase S&S Saimin, the popular instant saimin producer.
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Jodie Ching is a freelance writer and blogger who also works for her family’s accounting firm in Kaimukï. She has a bachelor’s degree in Japanese from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and is a past recipient of the Okinawa Prefectural Government Foundation scholarship.