KAPA‘A — Food truck owners on Kaua‘i are starting to reopen alongside other businesses, and like other business owners on the island, some spent much of their time over the past few months giving back to the community.
Juan Saenz and fiancée Noelle Wong — owners of Saenz Ohana Breakfast parked outside of the Princeville Makana Urgent Care Center — got involved in the Aina Ho‘okupu O Kilauea Farms’ Monday Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box deliveries when they closed their doors shortly after the beginning of the pandemic.
The couple shut down the food truck for walk-up sales because they wanted to respect the Urgent Care’s parking lot and allow them to do their jobs by not causing traffic. The decision cost the company a few sales, but in the end, Saenz and Wong said they still maintained a few delivery sales that helped keep the business alive.
“Our community means the world to us and we always have them in our plans,” Saenz said. “(We were) closed for two months, but we offered delivery with a menu of five burritos and also tacos for lunch for North Shore customers from Kilauea-Haena. We were supported from locals as much as they could.”
Saenz Ohana Breakfast is known for its eggs benedict from scratch. Both Wong and Saenz were raised on Kaua‘i, and Saenz is a California Culinary Academy-trained chef. He’s worked at various locations throughout the North Shore, honing his talent.
Saenz is no stranger to hard work and giving back. For the past five years, he has been gleaning fruit and veggies for people who have an abundance of produce on their property, working with Gray Hayton of Malama Kaua‘i. Produce from that program is donated to food banks around the island. During the beginning of the pandemic, the couple served hot meals from their food truck — about 200 meals a week for five weeks, “but funds ran out and we just had to stop.”
Meanwhile, Chef Jenna Kerr-Michaels and her wife Leah Kerr-Michaels, account executive for Hawai‘i Gas, were planning to open their first food truck called “808 Grill” in the past few months, but the pandemic put a twist in the plan.
“The pandemic definitely slowed our timeline as far as opening. It also created the need to adapt and change as far as menu and cost,” said Jenna Kerr-Michaels. “Having the island be at such low capacity right now is of course a concern for all Kaua‘i businesses.”
She continued: “Food trucks come with a lower bottom line, but making sure we can control cost to be not only sustainable but profitable and still provide quality food is a balance we are always striving for.
In July, the couple plans to offer outdoor seating at their food truck, set to be located on the east side of Kaua‘i at Noka Beach, just north of Otsuka’s building.
“Guests will have the option of taking their food to the beach that’s right in front or dining there at one of the tables. Meals will be prepared and sealed untouched as well as utensils in sealed packaging,” said Jenna Kerr-Michaels.
Chef Jenna Kerr-Michaels started cooking at a young age with Chef Jean-Marie Josselin at A Pacific Café. Then she went on to open a restaurant for Jean Marie in La Jolla, California, a place that won “Best New Restaurant,” in San Diego in its first year.
“I have run everything from fine dining restaurants to down home bars, but the one common link through them all was my love of food and people,” said Jenna Kerr-Michaels. “My wife Leah has a 20-year history in communication and community based nonprofits. She does countless work for communities across the Hawaiian Islands.”
The couple’s menu will be a mix of Pacific Rim and Asian fusion cuisine and will feature seasonal ingredients.
“Our goal is to create a fine dining experience at an affordable price. Using classic techniques and combining them with flavors influenced from our local childhoods, our menu is elevated comfort food,” said Jenna Kerr-Michaels.
Jenna Kerr-Michaels hopes beyond the future return to work program is to work with non-profit organizations in providing meals for families in need.
“Some of our upcoming plans to give back also include offering our first responders discounts on specialty items and weekly donating a portion of proceeds to our Kaua‘i Search and Rescue team that aids our community,” she said.
Stephanie Shinno, features and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.