While washing dishes at Flamingo Chuckwagon, attending high school and playing sports, Lane Muraoka got bit. At 16 years old, after talking to college counselors, Muraoka, founder and owner of Big City Diner (BCD), knew what he wanted. “I knew one day I wanted to open my own restaurant,” he says. “So I went to college to learn about hotel and restaurant management and got a degree in hotel and restaurant management at the University of Denver.”
For a time he worked for Stouffer Restaurants in Ohio and Chicago, then returned home where he worked with Wally Wok in 1987, owning a small share in their Chinese home delivery restaurant service. Moving on to Pizza Bob’s, he owned a small share as well. “Like in the whole pizza, I owned the pepperoni,” says Lane, with a laugh.
He started looking at places for his own venture—a family diner with a bar—in 1998, and found a spot in Kaimuki. It’s been 21 years since then.
What does Muraoka attribute BCD’s success to? “It’s a place of comfort, basically,” he says. “You can bring your friends, family, just come as you are. We had Governor Waiheʻe come in with his people a few months back, and they sat down next to Japanese visitors, who were next to four ladies having a girl’s luncheon, who were next to a family from California with their toddler.” More than anything, Muraoka wants customers to feel “just like they had dinner at grandma’s house.”
The menu at BCD is filled with American classics with a local twist, plus local favorites morning, noon and night. “We offer a wide variety because we know that will appeal to local families,” explains Muraoka. “It’s very common to see three generations sitting at one table. When your grandma and grandpa are 70, 80, even 90 years old, they have different needs. You also have the parents, the little ones…so even the for the children’s menu, I wanted it to have healthy options.” So, real chicken breast, yes, chicken nuggets, no. Even the hotdog is 100% all beef, no fillers.
Muraoka likes to eat healthy himself and wouldn’t put anything on the menu that he wouldn’t feed his own family. “For breakfast I eat the egg white tofu omelet all the time with a side of chili sambal sauce, because I like it spicy,” he laughs. “For lunch time, I eat all the different salads. We created a lot of healthy things because I watch what I eat. Yesterday, I had a salmon salad with mesclun and roma tomatoes, and a side of brown rice.” He pauses. “But then I’ll eat the Kim Chee fried rice with two eggs and a side of corn beef hash, so it varies.”
Muraoka is also known to ‘frequent’ his restaurants. “There’s a severe labor shortage!” he exclaims, laughing. “No, I like to stay in touch with our guests and our employees. You know, they see the boss get in there and working, then everyone helps out, right? Everyone jumps in and does whatever needs to be done to take care of the guests. That’s number one.”
BCD also happens to be the perfect spot to come in from the rain and catch a game or two on the TV monitors at any location. “In the mornings, people like to have the news on, so we’ll have CNN, Fox and then local news,” he says.
But when it comes to local high school playoffs such as volleyball, football or when University of Hawaii is playing, Muraoka advises his managers to play what the surrounding community would want to watch. “So let’s say Mililani or Waipahu is playing and we’re at the Waipi‘o store, we want to put those games on for the local community. They can’t make it down to the stadium or arena; we want to make sure that’s on for the local people.”
For someone who knew at age 16 what his goal was, Muraoka is a down-to-earth local boy who’s had great success. “We’re very thankful for the support of the community, as well as the visitor community. And big credit to our employees all these years for taking care of our guests to make sure everyone’s treated like family.”
Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. Locations in Kaimuki, Kailua Foodland Center, Waipio, Pearlridge Center and Windward Mall.