For nearly a century, Tip Top Cafe and Bakery has been a cornerstone on the island of Kaua‘i, serving onolicious grinds that more than satisfy locals and visitors alike.
Kaua‘i Times was greeted by Jonathan Ota, manager of Tip Top Cafe. Ota is the fourth generation of his family to run and operate Tip Top Cafe. Ota explained the long history of the cafe.
“My great grandfather, Denjiro, first opened the cafe in 1916 at the old location, where the round building stands today,” Ota said. “Then in 1965 we moved to our current location.”
Ota said that in 1914, his great grandfather used to be the cook for the plantation manager who used to reside in Kilohana. His cooking impressed many, and in 1916 he took a loan from a friend and opened Tip Top Cafe and Bakery.
“My grandfather was asked to start a coffee shop for the business people in Lihu‘e,” Ota said. “A friend lent my grandfather the money and that’s how the cafe was started.”
Ota said that at one point, the cafe used to bake bread for the entire island.
“My grandfather used to deliver island-wide,” Ota said.
Ota recommended two of Tip Top’s most famous dishes: the banana pancakes for $5.75 and the oxtail soup for $12.75.
“The pancakes are always a big hit because it’s a special recipe my grandfather came up with,” Ota said. “The pancakes are our most popular breakfast item because very few people make it from scratch, and we make our recipe from scratch every two days. It’s a special old recipe that is hard to beat.”
“Of course, we are also known for our oxtail soup state-wide,” Ota said. “It definitely is one of our best sellers.”
Ota added that a lot of businesses refuse to make oxtail soup because of the pricey ingredients. But Tip Top Cafe continues to make it because it is in such high demand by its customers.
“Oxtail is another very old recipe created by my father,” Ota said. “We’re definitely the biggest consumers of oxtail on the island.”
Ota said that the cafe is not fine dining, but that the business really depends onlocal dishes that are a staple in the diets of many locals.
“We have nothing flashy,” Ota said. “We really like to cook good, home cooked meals that local people like.”
Other favorites that Tip Top cafe is famous for include the Bento meal, chicken, corned beef hash, teri meat, takuan and rice for $8.75; fried rice, one scoop for $3.50 or a full order for $6; nine types of omelets for $8.95; the Grand Slam, two pancakes, two eggs, choice of bacon, SPAM, ham or Portuguese sausage, with your choice of rice, hash browns or toast for $12.50; and Tip Top’s award-winning loco moco for $8.75.
Ota emphasized that Tip Top Cafe likes to keep the same familiar atmosphere for everyone to enjoy.
“Over the years we have visitors that come every year,” Ota said. “We have a lot of repeat customers, so we don’t want to change the feel for the cafe. We just did renovations, we were gonna change the lights, but there was a big uproar from customers saying, ‘No, don’t touch the lights!’ We try to keep it the same: warm and friendly.”
Tip Top Cafe and Bakery, located on 3173 Akahi St. in Lihu‘e, is open Tuesday to Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.