Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Kuhio GrilleRestaurant Insider
February 23, 2020
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
ANNE LEE speaks with managers SHANNON, ERIN and LAUREN ARAKI
One thing that makes Hawaii’s culture stand out is the aloha spirit that fills each ohana. This aloha spirit is even more enjoyable when shared around a good meal. Whether it’s fried rice, lau lau or udon — Kuhio Grille has something tasty for the entire family, plus homemade desserts. This local staple is owned and operated by the Araki sisters who are originally from Hilo where Kuhio Grille’s ﬁrst location sits. Its Kaimuki location opened Aug. 1, 2019.
Today, the Araki family welcomed me as I got to sit and talk all things Kuhio Grille with sisters Shannon Araki, who specializes in baking and desserts, Erin Araki, who does a lot of the cooking and Lauren Araki, who is the best food taster. Together, they are the three sisters who manage and operate Kuhio Grille in both Hilo and Kaimuki locations.
AL: When did Kuhio Grille first open its doors in Hawaii?
SA: Our first location in Hilo was open in 1995. We originally had a taro farm in Waipio Valley, where our great grandfather Tetsuo came over to from Japan in the plantation days. He started this farm, then our grandpa Genji (his son) took over the farm, and then our father Sam and his brother, uncle Derek took over the farm in 1982, when we moved back to Hilo.
Our grandmother, Sueno used the huge taro leaves to wrap the lau lau, and that is what Kuhio Grille has become famous for — the home of the 1-Pound Laulau.
AL: With so many different choices for local food here in Hawaii, what does Kuhio Grille bring to the Hawaii food scene?
LA: We have the perfect items to serve to our customers, we offer homemade authentic local food, using local fresh ingredients, everything is made from scratch, even our gravy.
EA: Dishes are made and cooked to order. It’s like going to your aunty’s or grandma’s kitchen. You will not find anything canned here. Our 1-Pound Laulau is wrapped, steamed, and made-to-order. We have a dish called the Kanak Atak plate, which comes with our 1-Pound Laulau, kalua pig, lomi salmon, pickled onions, poi, rice and haupia. Kuhio Grille offers food people love to eat — we love to feed people and it seems to be working.
SA: We have a lot of specials that take a lot of time to make, and many people do not have the time to prepare these home-cooked specialties, we do the work for them. All of our dishes are made from scratch, and not frozen.
AL: What is Kuhio Grille’s goal?
SA: We want our guests to leave full and happy — we try to treat everyone like family. Some of our guests on Oahu know us from Hilo, so it’s great when they come in and are so happy to see us here.
AL: The three of you are sisters that run a popular restaurant, how did this become a family affair?
EA: Our parents didn’t set out to build a restaurant necessarily for us to take it over; we all went to school and did our own thing. We all gradually came back to working at the restaurant, it was really comfortable for each of us.
If you look at it from a business perspective, this was a good business model, people need to eat. Just from that, we’ve grown into an institution providing dishes that people love.
Shannon and I went to school and learned the business side of this industry, and growing up in a restaurant you learn a lot about what it takes to run a restaurant, you get taught everything.
AL: What is the restaurant’s most popular dish?
SA: The 1-Pound Laulau is the most popular item (1-pound pre-cooked weight). It’s a mixture of pork and beef, and the taro leaves we get from our taro farm.
AL: When did you decide to expand to Honolulu and why?
EA: I guess we got bored at one point? (laughs). We actually did have more than one restaurant business in Hilo. Our parents ﬁrst started as a Christmas-only store called The Swiss Colony, kind of like a Hickory Farms store, back when we were in elementary school. They had this every Christmas for a few years.
Shortly after opening Kuhio Grille, they also opened a little pop-up takeout window at the Suisan Fish Market, called B Burgers.
Then, the second largest thing they did was open up Encore Restaurant that had a banquet room.
Each of these restaurants ran their course, and our parents opened other businesses. Eventually, with the transitions between me and my sisters, our parents condensed back to one spot as they were the only two running the restaurants at the time, and that was Kuhio Grille.
Because we had these other entities, we were used to doing many things and the timing was right for us to expand to Oahu.
Lauren is also based in Honolulu, my family is now based in Honolulu, so it made sense to open a location here on Oahu.
Hilo-style breakfast in Kaimuki
By Brandon Bosworth
About a month ago, Kuhio Grille’s Kaimuki location began offering breakfast.
“Lots of people knew us for our breakfasts from the original Hilo location,” says manager Lauren Araki. “We knew we wanted to offer it over here as well.”
One of Kuhio Grille’s most beloved breakfast dishes is Taro Corned Beef Hash & Eggs With Rice ($10.49). Two scoops of a rich, savory hash are accompanied by two eggs, and choice of rice, toast or salad (upgrade to fried rice for $4.50).
“It’s something Mom and Dad wanted to do as a more local dish, using taro instead of potatoes,” Araki says.
Another favorite is Kuhio Grille’s Famous Fried Rice ($8.99, full order; $6.99 half order). It’s made with three kinds of meat, eggs, green onions, and a special in-house sauce. Top it off with a fried egg for an additional $1.99.
Got something of a sweet tooth? Satisfy it with Sweetbread French Toast ($8.99), made with local Hawaiian sweet bread.
Other breakfast offerings at Kuhio Grille include pancakes, wafﬂes and a variety of omelets.