CINNAMONS: "Cinnamon's: It's about family (ohana)in Kailua" Top 5 Page for this destination Honolulu Restaurant Tip by thinking

Honolulu Restaurants: 297 reviews and 472 photos

Like a scene from "Cheers," the waitresses, hosts and even the cooks at Cinnamon's Restaurant in Kailua know your name.

When customers enter the quaint, country-like restaurant in Kailua Square, Douglas Nam greets them by name and immediately strikes up a conversation about their children, family and even weekend activities.

"At any given time we know at least a third to a half of our customers by name -- and we don't just know their names, we know their lives," said Nam, 36, dining room manager at his family's business. "Our waitresses see customers come in and they've got their drink waiting for them and food being cooked because they know them so well. In our restaurant it's just a very special thing."

"All of our customers are absolutely family -- in a small business that's how it has to be," he said.

Cinnamon's is named after a French folk tale about a bear that saved a bakery. Nam's mother, Bonnie "Cricket" Nam, came up with the name the night before opening on March 1, 1985.

Almost from the start, Cinnamon's has been a staple for Kailua families looking for generous portions of local-style food. About 85 percent of its customers are local residents.

Cricket Nam, 59, does all the baking, along with running a wedding cake business, waking up at 4 a.m. every day for nearly 20 years while her husband, Norman "Puna" Nam, 60, and two sons, Douglas and Alika, 33, run the restaurant.

"I knew nothing about running a restaurant, I was just tagging along doing my thing, which is baking," Cricket Nam said. "It's a very hard life but I love it and it's something that my husband always wanted."

"I never realized how tough the restaurant business was but I liked the idea and fell in love with it," he said. "At the time, restaurants were the No. 1 high-risk business with a 40 percent failure rate."

Favorite Dish: "The boys didn't have a choice, if they wanted to eat they came here -- then they had to help," Puna Nam said.

The soft economy in the 1990s affected the Nams as customers cut back on spending. Regulars came in less often but they never stopped coming.

"Since we had a strong local regular customer base that helped us survive," Puna Nam said.

In addition, the employees -- many of whom have worked at the restaurant for more than 10 years -- made concessions, including taking limited benefits during the hard times.

"A lot of employees are from here, our boys grew up calling them aunty," Puna Nam said. "And because we're all in this together we knew we needed each other."

Generations have worked for Cinnamon's including husbands and wives, nieces, nephews and children.

"It's not run like a normal business -- we're there for our guests who come to eat, for our staff and for the community," Cricket Nam said. "I truly believe that's the reason we're still open."

Now that the economy is up, business is booming. Customers fill the gazebo in the middle of the dining room and peripheral side tables every day. On Sundays, they wait up to 45 minutes for seats in the outdoor courtyard. Cinnamon's offers free coffee and a newspaper to customers waiting for seats.

The primary challenge for the restaurant is finding good help.

"It's frustrating because you got the business now and people are coming to you but you don't have the help to really run it as efficiently as you would like," Puna Nam said. "Between the drug problem we have and the demand, especially with the construction industry, everything's up so it's very competitive to get good qualified personnel."

The company expects more than $1 million in gross sales this year and its customer base has grown to an average 300 customers per day and 600 on Sundays. The business has 35 employees.

"If I had to do it over again I don't know about the restaurant side, but the relationships with our customers and employees, I would never trade," Puna Nam said.

Price Comparison: about average
Directions: Kailua Square
Price: US$11-20
Rating: 4
Theme: Pan-Asian and Pacific Rim

Review Helpfulness: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Feb 21, 2005
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