After Hours: 50s Cafe on Okinawa full of nostalgia
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 12, 2013
Picture yourself transported back in time to the land of black-and-white TV, rotary-dial phones, drive-ins, big burgers, big cars and Buddy Holly tunes on the car’s AM radio. Or at least onto the set of Arnold’s drive-in on “Happy Days” or the Frosty Palace in the movie “Grease.”
That’s the atmosphere you’ll find at 50s Cafe, a hideaway, mom-and-pop eatery along the Kin Bay shoreline that’s equal-parts genuine American breakfast foods, burgers, soups, salads, Mexican burritos and tacos and enough nostalgia to have one gazing at the walls, mesmerized, for hours.
“A lot of Los Angeles restaurants are ’50s-themed, and I like the 1950s,” says the cozy establishment’s proprietor, Hayashi Oshiro, 70, a former operator of a Los Angeles-based limousine service who returned to his native Okinawa and began operating a series of restaurants in 2002. This one opened on Dec. 1.
Most recently, Oshiro ran a country-themed restaurant called Old West Cafe in the concrete and steel of Okinawa City, near Kadena Air Base. Upon finding out that a new locale was available, he jumped at the chance for a new start.
“This is a much nicer location,” he said, adding that he hopes to attract customers from among Americans living in just-finished nearby apartment buildings a stone’s throw from the place.
Step inside, and the ears first pick up an Elvis, Smokey Robinson or Pat Boone tune (occasionally, some ’60s tunes pop up). On the left entrance wall are reminders of that bygone era, starting with the autographed photos and likenesses of song and screen stars such as Andy Williams and Gregory Peck.
Posters for movies, such as the original “Oceans 11” starring the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford) adorn the walls, along with advertisements for such ’50s products as Hires Root Beer, Nehi Peach Soda and Ballantine Ale.
It’s a room with a view. The place seats maybe 25 during the chilly, gusty winter months, but a patio outside with a view of Kin Bay can add as many as 30 more seats come summer.
And there’s even a rotary phone — a 1937 vintage pink one at the cashier’s stand. “It still works,” Oshiro said.
For dining, start by ordering a pancake plate for breakfast, with two fried eggs, two bacon strips and a hash-brown patty, available all day. It takes time to come — the staff numbers just three people — but the first thing one notices is almost no trace of grease.
Same holds true for most of the rest of the fare, which runs from a simple bowl of clam chowder to a variety of burgers to Mexican food to a complex seafood casserole plate.
At night, Oshiro says the music might sometimes change, to jazz or easy-listening depending on the clientele.
Perhaps the only drawbacks — besides trying to find the place, nestled at the end of a narrow passage near a driving range along Route 75 — are the sounds of F-15s from Kadena flying over the place. “They can sometimes be noisy,” Oshiro says.
And no credit cards are accepted, just cash, pretty much the way business was conducted back in that nostalgic period.
“Young people don’t know much about the ’50s,” Oshiro said. “I’m trying to keep the ’50s alive.”