Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: The VerandaRestaurant Insider
May 9, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
ANNE LEE speaks with Honolulu Mayor RICK BLANGIARDI
AL: You selected The Veranda at The Kahala Hotel & Resort. Why did you choose this location?
RB: This place has held wonderful memories for me. I used to come here when I was younger — listening to Danny Kaleikini sing on the beach, to taking my kids here when they were little for Fruit Loops and to watch the dolphins. Through the years, there have been countless dinners and meaningful celebrations that I have attended here at The Kahala.
AL: Where did you grow up and how did you get to Hawaii?
RB: I was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I was 18, I was attending a prep school at a naval academy, and my father was a machinist working at Watertown Arsenal in Boston. This location was closing and had an option to be transferred to either Newport News, Virginia or Pearl Harbor. My mother wanted to come to Hawaii, but not without her oldest son — me! That changed my destiny.
I attended University of Hawaii and played football for a couple of years. I had to go back to the East Coast due to family circumstances. Coach Larry Price, who I played for at the time, understood my need to leave. I had a successful career playing football and continued on that path. I graduated from Springfield College, and started coaching at University of Connecticut in my 20s. We stayed in touch through the years. In 1971, he asked me to come back to Hawaii to coach football with him and I did. Hawaii is my home — all three of my children were born here.
AL: You also had a stint in sales, and that’s how you became affiliated with the television stations. Tell me about this journey. RB: I coached alongside coach Price for five seasons, and my wife and I found out that we had a baby on the way. Knowing the salary, coaching wasn’t the greatest, and I took the opportunity to do sales at KGMB in 1978.
In 2008, the recession hit very hard for our stations — all media for that matter suffered as a result of businesses closing, layoffs, etc. Out of that situation came the opportunity to merge the three stations (KGMB, KHNL and K5) and create something for Hawaii that it had never seen before.
We were on life support, and with the resources we had, we built the largest television newsroom in the state.
We understood mobile technology to the extent we could in 2009, and we never looked back. I am fond of the memories, not just the awards that we won, but serving the people of Hawaii. We couldn’t have done it without the great men and women that were on the team. I am proud of all of them and always will be.
This was my last year in broadcasting and something I’m really proud of. I spent 43 years from those humble beginnings at what is now called Hawaii News Now.
AL: You come from an Italian background. I also grew up on the East Coast, surrounded by Italian friends. It’s very similar to the aloha spirit here, where families gather for food and celebrations. Where were some of your favorite eateries here in Hawaii?
RB: My parents are Italian, and I grew up bilingual in a large Italian household. Although my parents didn’t have a lot of money, we always had clean clothes and lots of great food! I remember food being the center of everything. When I moved to Hawaii, I thought it was going to be different and exotic. It was, yet also so similar because of the gatherings, celebrations and aloha. My assimilation to Hawaii was very natural. My children were born here and although this wasn’t my birthplace, I always felt like I’m from here and am blessed to make Hawaii my home. I always felt that I was invited as a special guest to a very special party to be able to do the incredible things with incredible people.
There were not that many Italian restaurants here back in the day, but when Stan Sheriff was still alive, we spent a lot of time at Paesanos in Manoa Marketplace.
The Kahala is where I chose to do this interview, as I have spent a lot of time here over the years and have many special memories. I can tell you the whole Stan Sheriff Center was designed on a napkin at the bar right here at this hotel.
Over the years, there have been restaurants that have come and gone. One in particular that I loved was Like Like Drive Inn, and even before then, Kuhio Grille in Moiliili. Back when I was coaching, to me that was like dining out. If you could have a tuna fish sandwich and crackers, that was a big deal. Part of the lifestyle here in Hawaii is about food, how food is served, the things that take place while having a meal that defines our relationships and who we are. I feel that some of the best food I have had was at peoples’ homes, in their backyards. I have some fond memories of eating, sharing and developing friendships here.
AL: The pandemic impacted our restaurants. What do you see for the future for the industry in Hawaii?
R B : Let’s frame the restaurant industry statewide. It’s a sophisticated business that brings in $6.5 billion a year to our economy, about 19%. This industry employs more than 103,000 people. Forty percent of our restaurants have closed. Some intend to reopen, some may not, and perhaps new restaurants will be opening. It’s such an important part of our experiences and quality of life for the local community and visitors. We are hoping to see this restored.
The standpoint, at least what’s in my power, is on how we evolve here on the tiers. We are at capacity in restaurants, bars are reopen, we can serve alcohol until midnight, weddings are back with 100 people outside. These businesses need to come back for us. Working with the state Department of Health, we are doing what we can to move forward and ensure their success, and to get back to a place where we once were.
AL: I need to ask you this question: Why did you want to be mayor?
RB: What it really came down to was a sense, a love of place, a sense of responsibility, looking at the landscape — and this was all before the pandemic. Through my work in the community, my work at HNN and the “lens,” if you will, of a newsroom, stories that we covered, I was very aware of what we were facing. I was 73, didn’t want to stay at the dance too long at HNN, and I really wanted to do something after that would matter. I made the decision on what would have been the date of my mother’s 100th birthday out of respect for her. If she was alive and I was able to ask her what should I do next, she would have told me to do this. In her spirit and in her name, she was the reason why I came to Hawaii and why I decided to go for it!
The Kahala Hotel executive chef Jonathan Mizukami prepared amazing dishes for this feature:
• Foie Gras Musubi: “We are one of maybe four other people that have been able to try this dish. It’s going to be on the menu soon and it’s similar to the popular Ahi Katsu Musubi,” says Anne Lee.
• Caviar Fries ($50) with Regiis Ova Caviar that’s co-founded by Thomas Keller of French Laundry, ikura, tobiko, crème fraiche and chives.
• Buckwheat Waffle ($10), a type of smoresboard (open-face sandwich), and the waffle is topped with ikura, herb salad and crème fraiche.
• Truffled Deviled Eggs ($10), a perfect start before your entrée.
• Salmon Flat Bread ($24) with crème fraiche, local herbs, ikura and salmon.