The loco moco at Morning Wood. Courtesy Morning Wood.
Morning Wood, a San Mateo eatery serving Hawaiian-Japanese-Korean fusion dishes, is closing its doors at the end of September. The restaurant shared the news in an Instagram post Friday.
“It has been a wild ride for the last 6 years, but we’ve decided to end this journey,” an excerpt from the post reads. “Mahalo to all our loyal supporters and vendors who have put up with our shenanigans over the years!”
The last day of operation will be Sept. 30. Reservations will only be accepted online (max party size six people), with walk-ins accepted on a case-by-case basis.
Husband-and-wife team Chad and Monica Kaneshiro both left careers in the Bay Area fine-dining world to open Morning Wood together in San Bruno six years ago; Chad is from Oahu and Monica is from San Francisco, and they share Japanese and Korean roots that they incorporated into their menu offerings with dishes like matcha mochi pancakes and loco moco. The brunch spot drew long lines of diners soon after opening in December 2017.
Just before COVID hit, the couple secured a new, larger space for Morning Wood in San Mateo that needed extensive renovation work. In 2021 they opened Diamond Head General Store – a market devoted to plate lunches, poke bowls, musubi and Hawaiian goods – in the former Morning Wood space.
Morning Wood reopened in San Mateo in October 2022.
In an interview Wednesday, Chad Kaneshiro said the couple began thinking hard about closing Morning Wood two or three months ago. Last month, they came to the conclusion that “this was the best thing for us to do, not only financially but emotionally and mentally.”
“This place just kind of beat us down,” he said.
Kaneshiro said several factors played into their decision. Securing the new location for Morning Wood right before COVID-19 hit forced the couple to pay rent on the San Mateo space for nearly two years before it could open. The pandemic triggered ensuing supply chain and labor issues, and business was “up and down”: There were crowds Friday through Sunday but “weekday business wasn’t there.”
“With the rising cost of products coming in, I didn’t want to get to the point where we’d have to charge a stupid amount for a dish,” he said. “We didn’t want to charge more than what we’re already charging and totally alienate everybody.”
The business was also expecting a significant rent hike at the beginning of 2024.
“We wouldn’t be able to survive,” Kaneshiro said. “We wanted to go out swinging.”
Closing Morning Wood also gives Chad and Monica Kaneshiro an opportunity to try something new. The couple plans to open an izakaya-style Japanese restaurant in November. While they’re still finalizing the rental agreement, Kaneshiro said the eatery will be in the Burlingame area in a space that fits about 30 seats.
“We just wanted to go back to our roots where it’s just me and my wife operating the kitchen, that way we can have more of a hands-on approach when it comes to the cooking,” Kaneshiro said. “We just wanted to take a step back and go back to where we started in a sense and be more of a truly mom-and-pop operation rather than something large-scale, and we’re kind of tired of brunch.”
The new restaurant’s menu will be focused on Japanese cuisine “with our usual modern, weird twist,” Kaneshiro said. He expects they’ll come up with their own variations of curry and tonkatsu and anticipates they’ll serve “a lot of good, fresh seafood” along with beer and sake.
“We’ve been really meat-focused the last six years and want to offer a place someone can come in and get a really nice, small plate of fresh sashimi,” he said.
Having a smaller space will allow the duo to revolve the menu more and give them greater ability to pick and choose products.
While Morning Wood is shutting down, “it’ll never really go away,” Kaneshiro said. He and his wife plan on offering regular Morning Wood brunch pop-ups at their new eatery depending on their availability. And Diamond Head General Store, which opened in Morning Wood’s original location, is “still going strong,” with plans to revamp the menu after Morning Wood closes.
“We’re grateful for all the guests and connections we made,” Kaneshiro said. “We’re happy we were able to do things we wanted to do and not conform to expectations.”
Morning Wood, 514 Peninsula Ave., San Mateo; Instagram: @morningwoodsf. Open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.