Sam Choy's Is Open and My Life Has Been Altered

I know, I know..a restaurant opens and my life is altered..I know that sounds far fetched, but this is the story:

We moved to Kona in 2005 when the location, which is now the new Sam Choy’s, was occupied by a dumpy Wendy’s. A Wendy’s with a sweeping 250 degree view of the ocean. Everyone called it the only Wendy’s in the country with a million dollar view. It did not fit.

Then it went out of business and sat there…for years. It was a blight every time I drove down Kam III Road to our house. When we heard that Sam Choy, a famous local chef, was going to make it a Hawaiian fusion restaurant and really take advantage of that 800 foot view, I was thrilled. Not just because it’s great to be able to walk to a restaurant with the local star power of Sam Choy, but that someone would finally take full advantage of a space that has such a sweeping view of the ocean, the sun set, and the palm trees. And I can finally have a place to enjoy a cocktail with my friends and watch our famous red Kona sunsets without having to go to downtown Kona.

Did I tell you they have fire pits?

Fire pits looking out over a body of water so you can share some laughs with friends with a fire…I don’t know if it gets better than that for me. They have fire pits at Incline Village in Lake Tahoe and you snuggle there with your friends and watch the boats out on the lake. “Snuggling” near a fire in Kona seems kind of crazy, since it never drops below 70 degrees here, but sitting by a fire in shorts, sipping tropical cocktails is fine by me, too!

Opening Night

As I have been watching the final touches being applied to the restaurant, my excitement level has been rising. I see that there is plenty of outdoor seating. There are air walls so the entire restaurant is totally open to take advantage of the view. I drove by last night and the parking lot was full and people were holding glasses as they mingled on the patio. To me, it’s finally turning into the place that I had hoped for that space. I guess as I have been waiting for the recession to end, and the re-creation of that  space is kind of a like a bellwether for everything else. Maybe getting a drink at a fancy  new restaurant makes me feel that the worst is behind me. Maybe envisioning friends around a fire makes me feel that people can have some fun without always worrying about money. I don’t know, but it symbolizes hope for good times ahead.

Pictures this morning.

My friend Delania says I have been stalking this restaurant. This morning, I sure felt like a stalker! I went in on the first morning they are officially open and they are serving breakfast! ($2 pancakes and $2.50 for coffee!)  I took pictures of the famous cobalt blue bathroom sinks, the boat bar and yes, of course, the fire pits. I knew I would love it and I was not disappointed.

As an event planner, I just love cool spaces. This is going to be a place that I will want to hold events. My first one will be our upcoming Kona TweetUp on September 29th at 6 pm. I look forward to sharing drinks, Hawaiian fusion pupu’s, knowledge, fun and a glorious sunset over Keauhou on that night.

Thanks Sam for believing in Keauhou and that little beautiful spot up on the hill! Good luck in your endeavors!

(Side note: Dinner entrees are around $25. The cool thing is that you can get six different wines for $5 a glass. Sam hit the “enjoy what you can afford” nail on the head.)

Sam Choy's Kai Lanai on Urbanspoon

Spread the word if you love what you heard! #365kona so we can say Thanks!

Meet the Author

Julie Ziemelis

Julie Ziemelis is an entrepreneur, business owner, author, blogger and vlogger in Kailua Kona. She created and moderates the “365 Things to Do in Kona” page and the Kona Newbies group on Facebook. She blogs at and and vlogs with her husband, Eric, at “365Hawaii” on YouTube. Julie also authored the books, “How to Move to Kona” and the “Insiders Guide to Buying Real Estate on the Big Island of Hawaii”. You will most likely find Julie in Kona hiking, running, biking, taking photos and sharing Aloha.

Leave a Question or Comment About this Topic

  • Hi Julie –
    I’m the designer and builder of the Sam Choy restaurant and I enjoyed reading your blog. Who needs it to be cold to have a fire pit, right? Its all about the moment and friends! Also, thanks for taking a photo of my blue sink…I love that! Did you peek in at the one in the men’s room?? Check it out ; )

    • Julie Z says:

      You did an EXCELLENT job, Maureen! The whole space is just fantastic..will have to look in the men’s bathroom and say I was instructed to do so by the designer…;-)
      THanks for reading my blog!

  • Tim Weatherspoon says:

    Hi Julie,
    My best buddy from high school is a member of senior management with the parent company. This title has nothing to do with his age. I am pretty sure that he developed his creativity, and savvy as a result of his association with me. I’m absolutely convinced that the affordable wine thing is a result of our high school years.

    • Julie Z says:

      The affordable wine thing was a great idea! I had a glass of Estancia chardonnay there for lunch and it was $8. I know the bottle is $20, most restaurants put a 300% mark up on alcohol. I know they are making it up somewhere else, but I am thrilled to get a GREAT glass of wine with a tasty lunch ($10!) and a great view. I know they serve some higher end entrees and wine, but it’s nice for a little working family like us. Glad your idea rubbed off!

  • Rhonda Hedgar says:

    OMG, I’m glad I live in Kona, I’ve been looking for colbolt blue anything and my compliments to the builder for the beautiful sinks

  • Terry in Keauhou says:

    Not Covid-19 safe!

    Sam Choy’s is back open this week. We’ve been anxiously watching and waiting for the reopening. We went there the first afternoon, and were dismayed at what they thought was Covid-19 safe. It takes more than just simply posting a sign to wear a mask, putting out a jug of hand sanitizer and then serving the food on paper and plastic and using plastic silverware. They have you stop as you enter and then order off of menu board and pay at the register. The menu selection had less items than their normal menu had. They then give you a pager and tell you to sit wherever you would like.

    All the tables on the lanai are still there, maybe setup even closer than they were pre pandemic! You are lucky to be able keep just 2 or 3 feet from the next party at the next table. After you sit, a waitress comes over to your table and gives you a laminated happy hour menu and takes your bar order. Later you watch the waitress come and take this same laminated menu from your table directly to another without even wiping it down! The food was average/good but not great. When you’re done, you now have to pay the waitress for the appetizers and bar tab.

    Then you go to leave. Remember coming in? Well a line has now formed from the register all the way to the door with guests waiting to place their order. They aren’t social distancing, standing about 3 feet apart, and because where the line has formed, you can’t get to the exit without having to break through the line. And as always, everyone is either talking with their party or their heads buried in their phones, oblivious to the fact that you need them to give you some space to exit. Eventually you get someone’s attention and they try to move for you, but with only about 3 feet to the next party, they only can give you about another foot. We could have passed alongside this line but someone at Sam’s decided it was important to place two bench seats and the table with the sanitizer jug in a solid line fro the exterior wall next to the door, to halfway to the register.

    When we got home that night I sent an email to Sam’s giving them my concerns and observation. It’s been a few days, no reply from them as one would expect, and drove by the front door last night and it was still the same.

    I guess that we will have to keep going to the Tropics, Jackie Rays, Kona Brewing and Outback, because it’s clear when you are at these restaurants that they take COVID-19 seriously and have made many changes to keep their patrons safe.

    Sam Choy’s, you need to go visit your competitors and see how to open safely, or shut back down and wait until the pandemic is over to reopen.