aotani fountain

I spent my childhood summers in Hawaii, so starting in the mid-80s I was already flying the 5,000+ miles unaccompanied to spend 2 months with my father and my his parents. During these early visits, when I heard obachan or okasan I was probably about to see my great-grandmother, my grandmother’s mother. She only spoke Japanese and I only spoke English. I was always embarassed I couldn’t communicate to bridge the gap of our different worlds.  I do remember that my great-grandmother’s family had a store nearby in Kaimuki… and one thing that stands out in my memory is the soda fountain. Even back in the 80’s, I had probably never seen one before.

When I was a teenager, I finally met my grandmother’s kid sister, as she affectionately called her. My Aunty Jean had been living in Guam and we had never crossed paths.  When my great aunt and uncle retired to the Big Island of Hawaii, this napkin holder, on their kitchen counter, caught my eye. Turns out, it’s from the family store/okazuya, the Aotani Fountain. About a month ago, I became the keeper of this slightly rusty gem from our family’s past. I’m filled childhood memories from Hawaii every time I see this napkin holder and looking forward – we now have a Swami to predict our fortunes!

The next time I go to Oahu, I hope to dig up some old photos of the store. Perhaps a newspaper archive might have a shot of Waialae Avenue?  I have seen the Aotani Fountain mentioned in online discussion boards, where locals wax nostalgic about the past and its long gone haunts. It won’t be long before hardly anyone can remember the store, so when my Aunty Jean mailed me the napkin holder, I asked what she could still recall.  Both of us found that our memory has gone a little fuzzy with time, but she certainly has more to share:

“Have been meaning to write to you a little about the old Aotani Store. The earliest I can recall must have been when I was about six or seven. It was a grocery store with a soda fountain, next door to the Bank of Hawaii. The Bank of Hawaii in Kaimuki at that time was a small building with parking lot for their customers. This parking lot was our playground for the kids in our area after banking hours. The bank would lock up the lot with a chain to keep cars out, so naturally it was where we played baseball, learned to ride bikes, etc. The present Kaimuki bank sits right on the old place and took up the entire space of the old bank and parking lot. Our store, Aotani Store, sat next to the bank and parking lot. After we lost the lease to the Kosasa family who owned the property, it became a Thrifty Drugstore with the Kosasa family running it. Sometime in the eighties (I think) before we came back to Hawaii for good, Payless Shoes took over the pharmacy. I haven’t been back to that area since, so I’m not sure if it still is the Payless Shoes.

After your great grandmother lost the lease to the Kosasa family, she went to work at a Japanese delicatessen someplace in downtown HNL. After a year or so, she approached the Tomita family who owned the grocery store next to Ben Franklin (later, Kress) and leased their shop. She and great grandfather had a soda fountain and kitchen built and opened up the Aotani Fountain (and delicatessen) in the old Tomita grocery store.

We, your grandmother, Aunty Violet, Uncle Eddie and I, grew up helping at the grocery store and later, the fountain and delicatessen. The napkin holder, I believe, came from the deli/fountain days, which ran from the forties to the seventies or eighties. At one point, I recall we had a regular freestanding jukebox, and later, several smaller jukeboxes (you could flip through several pages for your selection).

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  1. Adobo: Great to hear your memories from Kaimuki! I hope one day someone with some photos will stop by and share them with us all. Mahalo, Liz

  2. Hi Linda, How wonderful to hear about your mom! Kaimuki restaurant scene is certainly up-and-coming these days! We ate at Town and Koko Head Cafe on our last visit (Jan 2015)… but if it had survived, I think Aotani Fountain would still fit right in with its new hip neighbors…

  3. Linda K

    Hi there – my mom used to work at Aotani Fountain until it closed! She’s an awesome cook and I have fond memories of growing up in Kaimuki and always having great food from Aotani Fountain.

  4. Marie: I’ve asked if family have any old photos of Aotani Fountain, but haven’t had any luck. I’ve always wanted to check the archives of local newspapers, I bet they have a ton of great shots from back in the day… I’ll add on to this post if I ever find any old photos I can share.

    Good luck with your search!

  5. Marie Riede

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I just read your blog and was wondering if you had a picture of Aotani Fountain. I’m with the Kalani High School class of 1962 and a group of us will be celebrating our 70th Birthday in Las Vegas.

    I’m in charge of a game that we plan on playing “Before and After”. I’ve taken all the current pictures of our hangouts but I need pictures of what they looked like when we were “younger”. If you have that picture and any others of businesses in Kaimuki and Kapahulu, I would greatly appreciate it.


  6. Craig Hao

    Aloha and Thank you for writing this So many Kaimuki’ers getting a Plate of Okazu from that Very nice and Friendly slightly balding gentlemanfrom the Glass showcase, was a ritual! Fried or Shoyu Chicken, shrimp tempura, Musubi, Corned beef hash patty and potato Mac salad..SO ONO…Oishi!!!
    I remember that Big roll of Brown wrapping paper on the counter, and how the plate was wrapped with the chopstick and rubber band around it.Aotani is SO much a great part of my memory growing up in and around Kaimuki along with KAIMUKI INN, TANOUES, TOMMY’S MARKET/PARADISE MARKET/KAIMUKI BOWL and TROPICS BAKERY on 12th Avenue. *Bonus if people also remembeowr ELSIE’S, which was next to Thrifty Drugs..a small take out place with a variy of items. Great job and at the least its Wonderful to see AOTANI FOUNTAIN continues to Live on, at least in our memories. We all grew up or spent time in what was a very specialoutpost/end of theTrolley line town…KAIMUKI. Check out “you know you’re from Kaimuki, when” on Facebook! Aloha and God bless Everyone!

  7. Michael Tanigawa

    I attended the old Island Paradise school in nearby Wilhelmina Rise during 1961-62. We lived in Claudine Street renting from a Mr Chu then. In the summer of 1962 my father bought his first house in Aiea, on the other side of town. However my young aunt married shortly afterwards and continued to live in the same general area until 1969 when she and her family also moved to Aiea.

    I have been resident in the San Francisco Bay area since 1983. It has been over 30 years and I have difficulty remembering the names of streets. But on my infrequent visits back home I never seem to have trouble finding places; the ones that still exist that is!

  8. Michael, Glad to help. It’s great to hear your old memories of the neighborhood. Am still hoping to come across some photos…I meant to inquire with local newspaper archive on our last trip back to HNL, but there just wasn’t enough time… Maybe someone else will come across this page and be able to point me in the right direction.

  9. Michael Tanigawa


    Thank you for jogging my memory! I was trying to find out the name of “that diner in Kaimuki near Ben Franklin” and came upon your blog.

    I have always had a dim recollection of Aotani Fountain being near the corner of Center Street and Waialae Avenue in the Ben Franklin building. In the 1950s and 60s my aunt worked at Ben Franklin and we would go there at least every other weekend. My father invariably parked on Center Street so we would enter the building on that side. To get into the store you had to go down a VERY steep stairway, which happened to be a great echo chamber. Maybe it still is.

    I can’t remember the year the original Aotani Fountain closed. Based upon dates on old comic books, I believe that Thrifty Drug was definitely established in that building before April 1967.

    I also remember the small store below Ben Franklin on the corner of Koko Head Avenue. Every time my aunt came to visit she would bring my brother and me Horlick’s Malted Milk Tablets and comic books from that store.

  10. Hi Elizabeth,

    What a surprise to come across “Aotani Fountain” and our old napkin holder. I’m glad the former has now found a permanent home in Ct. I salvaged it from Aunty Violet’s home many years after the soda fountain and deli was gone. And the other surprise was to find through the internet and your blog that there are some people that remember the Aotani Fountain and the old Kaimuki (before it got “updated” with lovely trees along Waialae Avenue). If I come across any photos of the old deli or grocery store, will send them to you for Scott who would like a copy. Ciao.

    Uncle Harry and I are going to Las Vegas for a few days next week, just to have some fun. No, we’re strictly penny-machine players so no fear of losing a mint. Anyway, I don’t think Bellagio has any penny-machines.

  11. Hi Scot, I smiled at the thought of your childhood milkshakes! If I ever can find any photos I will drop you a line. -Liz

  12. Scot Shimamura

    Hi…I’m one of the keepers of the flame. I spent my allowance for milk shakes at Aotani Fountain back in the 60’s-70’s. I’m so glad you posted this picture. I you find any pictures would you send them to my email? Thanks!!! Scot

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