Kalaheo ‘to go’ eatery steeped in tradition

KALAHEO — Hunters come in early because they need to be in the mountains by the time the sun comes up, Mabel Hashisaka, the matriarch of the Kaua‘i Kookie Bakery and Kitchen in Kalaheo, said about a “to-go” business steeped in family tradition.

“The girls come in at 3:30 in the morning so the bento are ready by the time the hunters come in,” Hashisaka said while adjusting samples and making sure everything was in order.

 “We open early (5:30 a.m.) and stay open until 4 p.m. because the school kids needs things to eat after school,” she added.

The Kaua‘i Kookie Bakery and Kitchen opened its doors about two weeks ago in the space formerly occupied by ‘Ohana Cafe adjacent to Scotty’s Music and across the parking lot from the Kalaheo Post Office.

Breakfast is served from 5:30 to 11 a.m., and lunch is served from 11 a.m. until closing.

“We’re still recruiting personnel,” Hashisaka said. “Yesterday, we had interviews with some of the students who are attending the Kaua‘i Community College culinary arts program, and we’re still trying to fill the positions.”

In the interim, personnel from the Kaua‘i Kookie factory in Hanapepe are filling in. Gina Torres, a former cook for ‘Ohana, is helping with grill and short order duties.

“This is all grab and go,” Hashisaka said. “Once we have a full staff, we want to open for dinner, too. But everything is ‘to go.’ Dinner will be a certain price for so many servings, and people can stop by on the way home from work and pick it up to enjoy at home, or wherever they’re going.”

Adding to the to-go menu, the eatery offers a line of packaged baked goods from the Kaua‘i Kookie bakery in Hanapepe, as well as a selection of gift items ranging from hand-made crafts to souvenirs. The array is governed by the old-fashioned one-stop shopping concept.

“When my brother opened the ‘Ele‘ele Shopping Center in 1958, this was the first Ben Franklin on the island,” Hashisaka said. “But he battled with Butler Brothers who owned the Ben Franklin stores because he wanted a grocery section in the Ben Franklin store.”

Eventually, her brother met “Mino” Furugen, and a Ben Franklin opened in the Kapa‘a Shopping Center.

In those days, the island didn’t have the mass transit option of The Kaua‘i Bus, and her father said it was his dream to have a one-stop store in all the island’s communities so people could just walk to a shop.

As she talked, she shared her grilled ham and cheese sandwich on pao doce bread slices, an item right off the menu, which was her late lunch.

One popular seller is the papaya seed dressing she said she developed out of necessity.

“When we opened the Kukui Nut Tree Inn at  Kukui Grove Center, we needed a house dressing. Whatever we have, we try to use local items — even the Medeiros beef in the hamburgers. The buns and breads for the sandwiches come from our own Kaua‘i Kookie bakery, which supplies baked goods to some of the hotels.”

The rest is history, and the papaya seed dressing continues to be a hot seller  wherever Kaua‘i Kookie products are sold.

Like the dressing, a lot of the items on the menu have been steeped in family history and for those who have the time, there are stories waiting to be told.

The kitchen and eatery also share a culinary lineage starting from the days when Kalaheo Coffee and Cafe occupied the spot before relocating to its current space.

“This is a good place,” a customer said, picking up a vegetarian Garden Burger. “My mother was here playing music a couple of weeks ago, and now we’re here eating.”

Flowers that adorn the quaint and cozy eatery come from Hashisaka’s ikebana class, and the sensei, or teacher, visits to check on the condition of the flora.

Those contributions, along with the family legacy and traditions, seem to enhance the flavor of foods that include bento, salads,  snacks and short-order plates that feature unique sweet potato french fries, assorted Bialys, a home-made pretzel dough pizza or a traditional teri beef (not teri-burger) sandwich.

Hashisaka said originally the family had planned to open in the location formerly occupied by the Kalaheo Menehune Mart, which closed shortly after the Big Save stores were acquired by Times Supermarket.

“But someone was interested in that spot,” Hashisaka said. “Then ‘Ohana Cafe became available, so we purchased the equipment from them and now we’re open.”

For more information and to hear about the day’s specials, call 332-0821.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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