Some who live on the Big Island would scoff at an essay with the words “Happening” and “Honoka‘a” together in a title. But they don’t see what I see. We’re getting a bunch of new restaurants, a sure sign of an improving economy and a bright future for this little town. I’m fine with other Hawai‘i residents thinking we’re a backwater. When they hear I’m from Honoka’a, people on the Kona side say, “Oh, how is the weather? You getting lots of rain?” I quickly reply, “Yeah, loads of rain.” We don’t want to encourage them to consider moving here. We like it the way it is, quiet and quaint. But we do welcome tourists.
We have a good local eatery up on the highway, called Tex Drive In. The woman from whom I bought my house also owned Tex and built up the business, inviting tour buses to stop as they went around the island. She later sold the drive-in and her famous malasada recipe, but the good eats continue.
The malasada is a small sugared fried Portuguese sweet yeast bread – imagine a donut without the hole. They are filled with any number of fruit or crème fillings. At Tex, they grab a warm malasada and fill it with your flavor of choice right as you order it. Yum! She also made the malasada dough-working and frying area visible to all visitors (like the Krispy Kreme shops down South). She was a brilliant business woman.
The rest of the menu reflects the eating preferences of the locals, including loco mocos and the plate lunch with two sides. (See my essay, Hawaiian Diners, posted 12/17/12.) Loco mocos are variations on the following ingredients: a hamburger patty (or slice of Spam) covered by gravy over two scoop of rice and topped with a fried egg.
We are happy to go up to the highway to enjoy local foods. But the point is, we need to bring the tourists down from the highway into the town proper. (Down is the correct word – the elevation at the highway is 1500 feet; downtown Honoka‘a is at 1000 feet.) That’s why the new downtown restaurants are so important.
Before I moved here, I subscribed to the local monthly newspaper, The Hamakua Times. I remember reading about the controversy when a sports bar requested a beer-wine license to open. Up to that point, there was no restaurant in town that served either. One of the local ministers wrote an opinion piece voicing grave concerns.
Despite the opposition, it did open, about two blocks from my house, the Honoka’a Sports Bar. There was never any trouble that I noticed. They advertised their bar menu as family friendly, and they offered karaoke twice a week. Why I didn’t go is beyond me, especially for the karaoke. I often said I’d take the Women’s Empowerment Circle there when I was queen, to sing. But you may have noticed this description was all in past tense – it’s already closed. Luckily signs out front show that a new restaurant is replacing it, the Landing.
Jolene’s Restaurant also closed after 20 years a few months back. Deacon Larry from church is opening Grandma’s Kitchen in its place. They will offer Portuguese favorites. Everyone in town is excited because we know his family has been successful with The 50’s Café on the road to Hilo. The other day I saw a guy in overalls and a backwards baseball cap working outside the restaurant. To my surprise it was Deacon Larry! I told him he looked like a regular guy, and he laughed with his characteristic warmth.
“You have the windows all closed up – everyone’s curious. When are you opening?” I asked.
He replied, “The first.”
“The first of September?”
When I saw his eyes twinkle, I knew he had duped me, as he replied, “The first chance we get.”
Then I learned that a restaurant was opening next to Blane’s, on a lot that goes through the entire block and whose back lot is kitty-corner to us. Someone said that we could have trouble at night if the back of the lot was used for parking – drug deals going down in our front yard, teens having sex in our backyard, noisy traffic on our quiet street. It didn’t sound like Honoka‘a, but I was ready to talk with the Planning Department until I found out the “restaurant” was a health food store with a café (the Green Market and Cafe). We dodged a bullet on that one. I’m looking forward to it opening, though it’s not much more than a skeleton at the moment.
Café Il Mondo, one of the bedrock restaurants in town is putting up a new building, and they should be moving in this year. It’s going to be beautiful. Rumor is they will also have a full bar in this location.
But the big news associated with this restaurant is that they are also building a public restroom for visitors and tourists. This solves a longstanding problem for downtown Honoka‘a. Some of the eateries in town don’t have any restroom, much less one for the public to use. No other business in town offers a public restroom either. The Honoka‘a Business Association and our Councilwoman have all expressed gratitude to the Café Il Mondo owners for their generosity. Their new location is next to the Honoka‘a People’s Theatre. I hear that Dr. Keeney who owns the theatre is very excited about this development and believes there’s good synergy between the two businesses: people go to dinner then step next door for a movie.
And speaking of the Honoka‘a People’s Theatre, they have recently opened up a cafe for breakfast and lunch with “grinds,” a slang term that means food. I don’t like the word because it has other connotations, but it’s in common usage here. A billboard with the menu sits out on the sidewalk. They’re open Tuesday to Sunday. People sit at the new tables and chairs outside, as well as at comfy conversation areas in the lobby.
Finally, there’s Blane’s. Blane’s Drive-Inn is the Honoka’a morning hangout for men of a certain age. They remind me of Poppa, BG’s dad, who went with his cohorts to their local McDonald’s every weekday after church. There they’d sit with coffee and solve the problems of the world. Our local Kapunas gather around the picnic tables and keep their eyes open for everything happening around them on this busy corner (well, as busy as Honoka‘a gets). It’s wonderful to see them there every day.
One often wears a long pheasant feather in his knit hat. Others have worn sarongs on occasion. I wish I knew what the occasion was – hot weather? Some special day of remembrance? There’s one that Faye has adopted in spirit – she thinks he’s so cute. He’s just a little sprite of a man with white hair and goatee. I think he looks like the Asian version of Poppa. The gents are friendly, and always say good morning and wave when I walk past. I would miss them if they moved to another location. Collectively, in their role as world-problem-solvers-over-morning-coffee, they are an anchoring rock in our community. I wonder if they had anything to do with the new restaurants in town, or the new public restroom. Good job!
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