Keith Kiuchi: Lawyer, Restaurateur & Non-Profit Chairman
You could say Keith Kiuchi has a lot on his plate. A partner in the firm Kiuchi & Nakamoto, he’s one of Honolulu’s top business attorneys. He’s also the part-owner of the Blimpie’s franchises in Hawaii as well as the new fine dining restaurant Elua, which brings together two notable chefs. Philippe Padovani and Donato Loperfido. The guy in charge of the restaurant’s wine selection is Kiuchi, who grew up in Moanalua Gardens and graduated from nearby Farrington High School in Kalihi. Kiuchi still has ties to Kalihi – he is board president of the Kalihi-Palama Health Center, which is the second-largest health center in Hawaii, providing medical care to those in need. Here he talks about his busy, productive life.
HILUXURY How do you find time as an active attorney to be running a restaurant business on the side – two restaurant businesses actually? Or is your legal work the real side job?
Keith Kiuchi: In the restaurant business there’s not much that I can do during the day.
HL: What kind of legal work do you do?
KK: Mostly business work – a lot of what they call commercial litigation, which is representing clients in business disputes.
HL: What inspired you to become a lawyer?
KK: I like trial work. I like the analytical part of practicing law. That appeals to me.
HL: How do you deal with the contentious nature of it?
KK: I actually like that. You have to have a strong personality to be in the legal field. You have to, as they say, have a thick skin. And I guess to answer how do I deal with it, I guess the other pursuits I have are a way of balancing it out.
HL: What inspired you to go into the restaurant business? KK: Back in 1997, I was doing work for the guy who owned the right to Blimpie Subs & Salads in Hawaii. And I was looking at what he did, and I thought we could run it better, so my law partner Stanford Nakamoto and I, along with two other investors, made him an offer and bought him out. We have six stores in Hawaii and three on Guam. Two or three years later, both Donato and Philippe were looking for an attorney, and heard we knew something about the restaurant business. That’s what led to my finding an interest in the fine-dining side.
HL: How did you pick the name Elua, which I think in Hawaiian means twice?
KK: Yeah, two – two chefs.
HL: I thought maybe the name was a reference to Padovani’s reborn. (Kiuchi previously owned Padovani’s in Waikiki, which closed after a lease problem.)
KK: In part, that’s what we’re trying to do, rebrand Philippe. But there’s another double meaning. Two is also the way the restaurant is pairing wine and food together.
HL: What type of food do you serve?
KK: Mediterranean. Philippe does very much Provence-style cooking, Donato’s style is very southern Italian … Our wine list is about one-third French, one-third Italian, and roughly about one-third American … I do the wine list for the restaurant.
HL: How did a local boy like yourself come to learn so much about wine?
KK: I was just interested in it from law school at the University of Indiana. And I’ve visited a lot of wineries in California and Oregon.
HL: Do you have a favorite wine?
KK: My favorite winemaker is Fred Scherrer. He makes his wine in Sebastopol (California). Most of his grapes are from Sonoma County. But he’s a very unique winemaker because he does cabernet, chardonnay, pinot noir and zinfandel. It’s a very rare winemaker who has that kind of ability.
HL: So why are you on the board of directors of the Kalihi-Palama Health Center?
KK: In part because my wife (Beth Giesting, director of the Hawaii Primary Care Association) was the executive director, and I still have strong feelings for the Kalihi community. The center provides quality health care to people in need, to people who can’t afford health care. We see the largest number of un-insured patients out of any health center on this island. We’re currently looking for property to expand.
HL: With all that you have going on in life, how do you find the time for any recreation, and if you do, what would that be?
KK: Hiking. We try to hike on Sundays. That’s probably the only day I really have open anymore. But part of my recreation is doing the restaurant. It’s sort of become like a hobby.