DINING IN & OUT
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Na Kumu -- Nakana Wong, left, and Lanakila Makua -- perform at Kapahulu Kafe, where awa, shown in the foreground, is the drink of choice.
The awa returns to Kapahulu
AWA aficionados were left without one of their favorite hangouts in April when Hale Noa was forced to shut its doors after almost seven years in business.
766 Kapahulu Ave. (validated parking available in back)
Open 6 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Sundays ('Awa service only on Tuesdays)
After three long months, however, the culturally significant beverage flows freely once again at the same location. Business partners and longtime friends Jonathan Yee and Daren Kimura opened Kapahulu Kafe in July, with the aim of bringing back Hale Noa's faithful customers while also attracting new ones.
"It would have been dumb to jump in and not look at ... the existing clientele," Kimura said. "We're not talking about hoodlums or anything -- we're talking about great people!"
Although they both hold full-time jobs (Kimura oversees the mortgage department at Hawaiian Tel Employees Federal Credit Union; Yee is a project engineer with the state Department of Transportation), the pair had talked for years about opening a restaurant. When Hale Noa's closure was announced, they realized the time had come to act upon their dream.
"Nobody wanted Hale Noa to close," said Yee, who had worked with former owner Keoni Verity in the past as founder of the Hawaiian Kava Center and as an organizer of the Hawaii Pacific Islands Kava Festival.
"I had the awa, and Daren was always an excellent chef. Just adding those two things together, I thought maybe we could provide something necessary to the community."
Drawing upon personal savings, Yee and Kimura came up with the financing to lease the location and quickly set about furnishing and decorating the space. Hale Noa regulars will notice few changes, as much of the layout remains the same.
Lauhala still lines the walls here, with a performance area near the entrance. Artist Solomon Enos continues to display his work on the walls, and he has been joined by talented up-and-comer Matthew "Chuna" Kaopio Jr.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Daren and Jenny Kimura co-own Kapahulu Kafe with Jonathan Yee. Jenny also works as a server behind the bar.
The entertainment lineup also includes some familiar faces, such as Steve Inglis and Michael Tanenbaum. The Girlas, weekend fixtures at Hale Noa, continue the tradition with a Friday night residency at the Kafe.
"It sounds like not only are they happy, but they really like what we've done," said Kimura of the entertainers who come in to play. "The Girlas, you'll see them in here at least three (or) four nights a week!"
But what has really gotten folks talking is the food on the menu.
Everything on it comes from Kimura's daydreaming about owning his own restaurant. He likens the concept to visiting a friend's house and hanging out in their living room.
"I wanted people to come here and be able to have a good time and walk away content," Kimura said. "I don't want to be the place that you come to eat the same things over and over.
"When you go over to a friend's house and you raid their fridge, it's never the same. So that's part of the fun."
The offerings here are pretty basic, with the main choices being quesadillas, salads, sandwiches and pastas. But it's Kimura's attention to detail that makes them special.
The Kalua Quesadilla ($7.50) is a signature dish that he admits is easy to make. What sets it apart is the blend of three cheeses, as well as a homemade mango-papaya salsa served on the side.
Salads ($6) are served with homemade dressing, and even the Pesto Pasta ($7.50, with chicken or shrimp) comes with a special orange macadamia nut pesto that Kimura has made for years at home.
"Even the soybeans ($2.50) have a sauce on there that's not exactly like any sauce you'll find ... because it's tailored to how I like it," he explained. "The chow mein ($7.50), there's a sauce that's mixed ahead of time. Everything has been tailored to things that I like. Even the sandwiches have a dressing."
For Yee, Kapahulu Kafe is meant to be a destination for everyone in the community to take advantage of both the social and cultural opportunities that come with quality food and drink.
"I enjoy the company that comes over to the Kafe, and the opportunities for talking story with people," he said. "We're not trying to imitate Hale Noa. We've got our own way of doing things and our own style."'