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Faith, family and food

Cover Story

February 16, 2020

Story By: Kyle Galdeira | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

(First row from left) Leeana Kalawe, Nani Kalawe, Raymond Kalawe and Vale Niko. (Second row from left) Tatum Andrade, Amy Kalawe, Ashley Kalawe-Giffard and Rayel Kalawe

Food evokes memories, and in some cases transports diners back in time — that’s exactly what the Kalawe ohana aims to do with each delicious made-from-scratch dish it serves up at Cafe Kalawe.

Headed by Nani and Ray Kalawe, the family restaurant serves up a slice of ohana with every dish as the couple’s six daughters and nine granddaughters are also involved in the business that specializes in home-style, local cuisine. And, even though local favorites rule the day here, the Kalawe family notes that visitors to the islands seek out Cafe Kalawe as one of the go-to spots for local grinds; special trips are made from Waikiki and even neighbor islands in search of Cafe Kalawe favorites.

The Kaneohe eatery is situated within the atrium of the Territorial Savings Bank building — where there is also a tranquil garden in the mini courtyard.

Much to the delight of patrons, guests can order breakfast and lunch Tuesday-Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. What’s more, a lot of the recipes on the menu were passed down by Nani Kalawe’s grandmother, who was a cook by trade.

Chantilly Pancakes For just $9.50, hungry guests at Cafe Kalawe can indulge in this new customer favorite topped with bananas and drizzled in the family’s signature sauce.

Nani mentions that following her own retirement from Kamehameha Schools, one of her daughters wanted to open a restaurant and sought Nani’s help. However, when her daughter decided on another career path, the family pulled together to continue the dream.

“Man plans and God laughs, and life has a path of its own, so our entire family pitched in to make this possible. It takes a village — so I asked my family to support me in this business, and it’s a true family experience,” Nani Kalawe says. “We almost called ourselves ‘Leap of Faith’ because it really was that. God is first for us, and my husband is a minister, so I think that helps a lot.”

Hapa Moco ($12.95) is the restaurant’s top seller with a hamburger and a corned beef hash patty along with the must-have rice, eggs and gravy. Guests always compare loco mocos, so the option to have different varieties of patties including the fresh corned beef helps this favorite stand out from the crowd.

Chantilly Pancakes ($9.50) was just introduced late last year and has already become one of the best sellers. Everything on the Cafe Kalawe menu is made fresh in house, and nothing is reheated or pre-packed, so keep in mind that “good food takes time, and it’s worth waiting for.”

Steak & Eggs ($14.75, add $2.75 for Lup Cheong Fried Rice

Steak & Eggs ($14.75, add $2.75 for Lup Cheong Fried Rice) is cooked-to-order and the steak is seasoned with a housemade blend, and guests can select the temperature and style of eggs. Chopped Steak with Kalawe Salad ($11.95 regular, $9 mini) features lightly seasoned, thinly sliced steak with bell peppers, celery and white onions. Guests can also choose white or brown rice and potato salad as an alternative to the Kalawe Salad, which includes lettuce, won bok, won ton chips, fish cake, sesame seeds and house dressing.

“It’s a step back in time to what I grew up with and there’s a sense of community where people would come in and share information, talk story,” says Nani when describing the cozy restaurant’s vibe. “If I can just get people in the door, they’ll come back. So far, they have been coming back! A lot of people want to support local businesses — we’re not one thing or one dish, we’re everything.”

A Sip of Aloha

Guests at Cafe Kalawe are encouraged to tickle their taste buds with a popular Polynesian drink, including the best-selling Vaifala (pictured below; $10, 32-ounce jar; $5, 24-ounce cup; $5, jar refill). It is a milk-based beverage that means “pineapple water” in Samoan with pineapple blended throughout. Patrons can also choose from flavors including mango, mixed berries, li hing mui and an “explosion” combination of multiple flavors.

Customers are welcome to choose from assorted lemonades such as strawberry, mango, mixed berry, and iced teas with flavors like lilikoi, pineapple and lemonade-infused. (The same prices and serving options as the Polynesian Drink apply.)

“What we find is that we’ve evolved from a new Kaneohe restaurant to a home for new family members,” Kalawe says. “When somebody comes to our house, we want your spirits and stomachs to be full. The first time you come here you’re a guest, the second time you come back, you’re family. And, that approach to service and genuinely caring for customers helps to make guests feel happy, and that’s why they come back.”“

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