By Lois Ann Ell

published in The Garden Island Newspaper

ANAHOLA—On August 8th public charter school Kanuikapono will begin the school year on one permanent campus for the first time.

“This is our tenth year as a charter school,” said Ipo Torio, Executive Director of Kanuikapono. “We are grateful to everyone who has been a part of the journey; over the years we have persevered the challenges, celebrated the successes, and continue to get better at what we do.”

“This is monumental for our school,” administrator Delton Johnson said, adding that it will allow for energy and focus towards the school’s mission of providing cultural and project based education.

Kanuikapono teaches grades K-12 and currently has approximately 120 enrolled students, with class sizes averaging between twelve and eighteen students.

“With all grades and all staff on one campus we are going to be so much more effective and stronger in our educational program as well as operations,” said Torio.

Kanuikapono is one of the few schools that recently met the 2011 preliminary Annual Yearly Progress requirements of the No Child Left Behind act, which is based on student assessment scores. The school’s AYP status is “In good standing, Unconditional” according to the Hawai’i State Department of Education school report. Statewide, only forty percent of public non charter schools and only 29 percent of public charter schools met the requirements.

“We have met AYP again this year,” said Torio. “The entire learning ‘ohana working together towards continuous improvement is what makes meeting AYP possible—our instructional program is innovative, creative, and rigorous in so many ways,” Torio said. “Making AYP is sort of the minimum expectation for all of us at the school; we continue to lift the bar, thanks to our hardworking students, teaching staff, parent group, and leadership.”

Although the Learning Center in Anahola is now the school’s home, Kanuikapono will continue its relationships with outreach sites on island.

“We have a strong collaborative partnership with Waipa, Kalalea Uka Native Plants Nursery, and the National Tropical Botanical Gardens,” said Torio. “Our students visit these sites regularly to learn from experts in a hands-on way that engages them and then our teachers bridge the outdoor learning experiences into the classroom.”

Last year first grade teacher Shelby Dabin took her students to Waipa once a month, integrating the state science standards into all that Waipa has to offer via the project/culturally based learning model, school administrator Sarah Schoenfeld said.

This summer, middle and high school students participated in NTBG’s five week Kokua ‘Aina Youth Initiative Program which allowed students to discover ‘green collar’ career pathways, where students worked on various projects, including reforestation at Limahuli, working with NOAA and the monk seal awareness group. The students also spent time on hikes and in nurseries identifying and discussing native plants and agriculture, according to Cherisse Kent, Environmental Educator with NTBG who worked with the students daily.

The Learning Center in Anahola will now encompass elementary, middle and high schools all on the same campus for the first time, which the school views as a positive opportunity. Torio explained that Kanuikapono is based on the ‘ohana model.

“’Ohana is where we draw our strength, everyone cares for each other, the school, and the larger community,” she said.

Johnson said he is excited to have all ages together, and that the campus is large enough to allow younger and older children to have separate areas but students can be brought together to facilitate mentoring.

“We find mentoring to be a valuable experience for the older students who learn to malama the younger students and the younger students look up to the older students as positive role models.”

“We are an ‘ohana based school,” Johnson said. “We are able to do all that we do with limited funding because of the involvement of our families and the community—in our model, school is not separate from the family; we enroll students and their families.”
Tuition is free at Kanuikapono. Parents of students put in volunteer hours each semester to help fulfill the various needs of the school.

“Although we have a long way to go before we can say that charter schools receive equity as far as being a public school goes, we are doing an incredible job of maximizing our resources to deliver quality education despite funding and facilities issues,” said Aunty Puna Dawson, local school board director at Kanuikapono. “We are here today, stronger than ever, because we believe in what we do, we are good at what we do, and we intend to stay for a long, long time.”

Pono Market: the legacy continues in Kapa'a

Published in The Garden Island Newspaper

KAPA’A—the Kubota family has been operating the successful Pono Market in Old Kapa’a Town since 1968. Over the years the small store has kept evolving, with a knack for making outstanding local food and knowing what customers want.

“We were a meat market selling Kubota pork,” Robert Kubota said, recalling when Pono Market first opened its doors over 42 years ago. They eventually transitioned into a grocery store, selling essential items, vegetables and was the only shop that sold beer, until bigger stores popped up, Kubota said.

Pono Market eventually changed its focus to fish, and evolving once more in recent years it has made its specialty plate lunches, and Uncle Ken Kubota has added his espresso and ice cream station. Of course Pono Market also serves their famous manju as well. And their musubi. And sushi. And poke. Come to think of it, they are kind of famous for everything they serve there.

“My parents come in and make 100 lau lau every day,” son Robert Kubota said of
Bob and Lynn Kubota, who took over the business from parents Minoru and Kyoko in 1997. “They are here by 3:00 a.m. so the lau lau is ready at 10:30 every morning,” Kubota said.

The Pono Market staff also works in the early morning hours to make manju, which are sweet, baked pastries with a variety of flavors inside such as apple, coconut, sweet potato and red bean. The packaged manju plate is as exciting as a box of assorted chocolates: you decide which one to savor first, discover which one is your favorite of that day; the crystalline, flaky coconut or the creamy, mild sweet potato.

Assorted flavors of musubi—spam, teriyaki spam, chorizo, teriyaki chicken—is another mainstay at Pono Market made in the dark morning hours to offer by 6 a.m. Kubota said the musubi is a sure bet to get your child to eat his or her lunch at school, instead of coming home with a lunch box full of uneaten food.

“From preschool all the way up to high school, when you send them with the musubi, it doesn’t make it home,” Kubota said. “As they get older they can move on to the plate lunches.” Pono Market is serious about feeding Kapa’a’s keiki: if any student child their student I.D. between 6-7:30 a.m. they receive a discount. But Kubota cuts it off sharply at 7:30 because “we don’t want kids to be late to school.”

Pono Market doesn’t call the now notorious Fridays ‘furlough days,’ they call them “Kapa’a Fridays,” and all the employees wear their Kapa’a school spirit shirts, Kubota said. Besides musubi, another grab and go food there is the sushi.

“Our original roll was the maki sushi, and we’ve been selling it for 42 years,” Kubota said, explaining the main ingredients are cooked tuna, eggs, carrots, hana ebi (shrimp flakes) and vinegar in the rice. The poke is another item in popular demand and made with many varieties: ahi onion, ahi sesame, spicy tako, and spicy shrimp. After most of the plate lunch food has sold out each day, Kubota has a motto to assure customers: “poke and beer, never fear.”

To most proprietors, selling out of their lunch items every day by early afternoon would be a good thing. But Kubota said they want to serve as many as they can and do not want to disappoint, so he advises people to call, text or email ahead of time to reserve your order.

“Our lunch starts at 10:30 and we go until we run out,” Kubota said, which is usually around 1:00 p.m. Customers flock for the fried chicken, the lau lau, their house made kalua pork, and all the fixings on the side.

“We make our own mac salad, lomi lomi, and kim chee,” Kubota said of their plate lunches, explaining they use won bok or cucumbers from the Kilauea farmers market for their kim chee. In fact, Pono Market uses mostly local food to fuel their business, including Kaua’i grown, free-range meat from Kojima’s, and the newest addition to Pono Market, the ice cream and espresso station run by Ken Kubota, who uses Maui made Roselani ice cream and Kaua’i Times coffee, a local company that roasts a bean blend specifically for Pono Market.

“Locals are going to want something to wake them up, and that’s what Uncle has,” Kubota said of his Uncle Ken’s coffee, who makes a treat called the Roselani Express: a shot of espresso poured over French Vanilla Roselani ice cream.

“We are a one-stop shop; we want to get you in and get you out,” Kubota said. “You’re coming here to spend money, get your comfort food, you eat and you’re happy…we want to spread the Aloha.”

Pono Market is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 6 to 4. To order ahead call 822-4581, email kubota7997@yahoo.com or text 652-1503.

Home Sweet Home at Tutu's Soup Hale

Published in The Garden Island Newspaper

Tutu’s Soup Hale is not just in the business of offering comfort food, they are offering comfort, period. Luxurious, dark purple velvet-covered chairs and a cozy, plantation era sofa furnishes the “living room” of the restaurant, complete with a lending library book shelf and dominos. Savory aromas sneak out of the kitchen, wafting into the small smattering of tables in the airy dining room. Outside, under the sheltering Banyan tree hangs a dart board. It’s official: I want to move in.

“That’s why we put ‘hale’ into the name, we wanted it to feel like you are in our home,” Sage McCluskey said, co-owner with Bert McCluskey. “It’s like an open-air ‘Cheers’ atmosphere where everyone knows your name-if you don’t know someone when you come in you will by the time you leave.”

The clientele, besides faithful regulars, are often international travelers, Bert McCluskey said, as well as the health conscious.

“Vegetarians find us, and vegans seek us out because of their limited options,” he added. Tutu’s is not totally vegetarian or vegan (they serve albacore tuna and dairy is in much of the menu) but even carnivores won’t miss the meat with this food.

They offer three signature soups daily, with free samples to taste before you commit with your order: The Baked Potato, the Upcountry Mushroom, and the Lentil and Brown Rice. A fourth soup is offered throughout the week, such as Cream of Breadfruit or Spicy Tomato Cilantro. All soups are served with a honey corn bread muffin.

“You can mix the soups half and half, some people mix three or four, or some just top their soup,” Bert McCluskey said. The mixing adds delicious dimensions to the soups, for example topping off the thick, creamy Baked Potato with the spicy, tangy Tomato Cilantro.

When asked how they developed the concept and the food menu for Tutu’s Soup Hale, the McCluskeys said it took six years of “trial and error.” And for the past year in business—Tutu’s Soup Hale celebrates its one year anniversary this month— they are now operating smoothly and comfortably.

“We were in overload,” Sage McCluskey said of the beginning days of Tutu’s last year, with both of them in the kitchen and in front. “Now we’re in a flow.”

“Our food is made to order,” Bert McCluskey said. “You’re not going to have tomatoes that were sliced three days ago; you’re going to have tomatoes that are fresh, right of the vine.” Tutu’s purchases much of its produce from Dante’s Family Farms, and other products locally, and often trades for soup.

Also offered at Tutu’s are originals like the Taro Burger, Cashew and Basil Pate served with foccacia bread, and breakfast specials, which is the meal the McCluskey’s are focusing on most these days. Bert’s Breakie is a morning staple at Tutu’s, with scrambled eggs and veggie sausage on a croissant. The Hawaiian Sweetbread French Toast impressed a visitor from Michigan so much he sent a box of maple syrup to the McCluskey’s after returning home.

The breakfast menu also includes fresh pressed coffee, chai, and Kaua’i’s own Da Cha teas. Regular customers even have their personalized mugs they drink out of when there.

“It’s a coffeehouse feel, with everyone talking across the room,” Sage McCuskey said. However don’t mistake Tutu’s for one of those bustling, tech-happy modern places. They want to keep it Kaua’i style.

“We have people ask if we are going to get Wi-Fi,” Bert McCluskey said, adding the answer is no. “We want people to be in the present moment.”

During the past year, the McCluskey’s have opened its doors to many community events in the last year, including a poetry slam, art openings, Hawaiian music, and have more coming up in the future, including tea tastings, animal communication classes, and a kava happy hour.

“We serve it up in coconut cups,” said Sage McCluskey of the kava. “It’s a nice alternative to people who don’t drink (alcohol).” Currently, they also have ongoing events of belly dancing with the Garden Island Belly Dancing Troupe once a month, intuitive readings and chair massages.

Tutu’s Soup Hale is open Monday through Saturday from 8-5. They are located in the Kinipopo Shopping Village behind Kaua’i Water Ski and Surf Company in Kapa’a. For more information, call 639-6312.

Iti wine bar goes big

Published in The Garden Island Newspaper's 'Kaua'i Times' Sunday, February 28, 2010

Iti wine bar hosted its grand opening two months ago on December 16th, and has been thriving since, offering a new, intimate venue in Hanalei. It is located in the same century-old building as Tahiti Nui, a north shore relic and restaurant and bar for decades.

“Nui in Tahitian means large; iti means small,” Rana Townend said, manager of the wine bar, who collaborates with owner Christian Marston, his daughter Nanea Marston (currently in Italy), sommelier Hollywood, and Chef Mauro to pull off the chic, warm atmosphere with over 50 wines, and a unique tapas menu serving food until 11:30 p.m. six nights a week.

“This is the VIP room of at the Nui,” Townend said, adding Tahiti Nui and Iti are “totally different experiences” and compliment each other. “This is a nice place you can sit and talk and have a conversation.”

Along with the conversation, savor premium wines at a range of amounts and prices. With almost all the wines you can order a bottle, a glass, or a “taste:” a two ounce pour, which allows you to sample a variety, or be the pilot of your own wine flight. Iti offers a range of flights (small samples of wines based on a theme) as well on its menu, and will help you create your own, say a flight of pinot noirs, or wines from one region.

“It’s constantly a learning experience,” Townend said of the complex world of wine, who added Hollywood, a wine expert has been a great help with wine education. Townend likes to ask customers what they like in a wine, because everyone’s palate is so different, and then suggest one to match their preferences. Iti’s happy hour is from 6-7, where you can purchase a glass of wine from bottles opened the previous night for the taste price.

Beer drinkers, don’t panic with all this grape talk. Iti serves three distinct brews on tap: Italian beer Peroni, Stella Artois, and Deschutes organic ale. They also fix fun drinks like cappuccinos, espressos, lattes, and select liquors. Townend revealed she can make a mean lychee martini.

The tapas menu at Iti is a fusion of Italian, Japanese, and Californian cuisine, said Chef Mauro, a native of Italy who has been a chef for over 25 years and owner of his own pasta company.

“This is a funky place, we don’t want to be too fancy,” Mauro said of the food. His menu and presentation is creative and pairs with a range of wines, or any beverage for that matter. Take the Ono roll, a panko-crusted, seared and sliced piece of ono, served up sashimi style over a glaze of shoyu and bed of greens ($16), easily shared with two to three people.

Other best sellers on the menu are the lamb chops with lime cilantro sauce, Townend said, as well as the mini or the large cheese plate, which pairs perfectly with wine tasting. The Ahi Carpaccio is an original and tasty way to eat raw tuna, served in a large, thin piece drizzled with aioli, spread onto toasts that line the perimeter of the plate.

Considering the success of the family-operated Tahiti Nui, its little sister establishment Iti will also be a hit for years to come. Inside the cozy, chocolate-colored walled room fronted by white French doors, it feels more like a home than a bar, and it feels like you too are part of the family hanging out there.

Active volcano (burger) on Kaua'i

TNT Steak Burgers sparks up their menu
By Lois Ann Ell

published in The Garden Island Newspaper 'Kaua'i Times' Feb. 21, 2010

Thomas Vanderwende was once given a challenge: blindfolded, he was asked to identify the 36 ingredients in a sweet potato pie littered with a list of ingredients. He identified 35 correctly.

“I just have taken an unusual love of food,” he said, which grew over the years of having to cook for his co-workers during his shifts as a paramedic. It was during one of these shift dinners that he created a steak burger, which sparked the idea for what is now TNT Steak Burgers in Kapa’a. His coworkers not only loved it, one of them wanted a picture of the meaty, messy delight.

“He went out to his truck and got his camera,” Vanderwende said. “We had a picture of my burger on the wall for three years.”

Vanderwende’s food was destined only to be eaten by paramedics until he met his wife, Tetchie, who had a business management degree from the Philippines and a desire to start a business. A trailer went up for sale, the couple bought it and TNT Steak Burgers was born a year and a half ago.

Also born a year and a half ago was the Vanderwende’s son Kyler, who graciously hands customers a piece of ice out of the drink coolers or offers up one of his fries, or babbles and coos while being swung between his parents.

“He’s grown up with this restaurant,” Thomas Vanderwende said of Kyler. Managing another career, a toddler and a food business cannot be easy, but the TNT couple is optimistic.

“It’s so tiring but I just keep putting out a good, positive attitude,” Tetchie Vanderwende said of their busy life, adding “I love it, it’s my thing.” Thomas Vanderwende shrugs off the fact they have been burgled three times. When asked how he felt about another similar priced restaurant opening right next to them, he said it’s “kinda good” because it’s “like having a food court” where people can have choices to eat what they are in the mood for.

TNT’s specialty is steak burgers, and the volcano steak burger is the one to get if you can handle it. Topped with grilled onions, fresh roasted Serrano peppers, topped with hunks of crumbling blue cheese and topped (and bottomed) with the secret lava sauce, it’s worth the burning mouth for minutes afterwards.

The Vanderwendes have expanded their menu from just burgers lately, and it is continuing to grow. There are now plate options, like the steak plate: simply seasoned sliced sirloin, served with rice and a green salad. Thanks to a fisherman connection, they are also offering a fresh fish plate now as well, served with their homemade tartar sauce. There’s also a deep fried pork chop plate smothered in mushrooms and grilled onions.

Tetchie Vanderwende recently created a chicken sandwich and added to the menu: a breast stuffed with havarti cheese and bacon. It looks like there are two chefs in the family.

The food is simple and fresh, with potatoes cut daily for the fries, fresh baked buns for the burgers.

Our baker from Country Moon Rising rides his bike down here every morning,” said Thomas Vanderwende.

Their location in north Kapa’a town is serving them well, right off the road, supplied with picnic tables under shaded tents next to their tidy trailer.

“I’m not a restaurant man, I’m a food man,” Vanderwende said, but with the success and joy from TNT (“feeding people is almost as fun as saving lives” Vanderwende said) don’t be surprised if he is a restaurant man someday.

“If you gave me a real kitchen with an oven and a stove…we could put out some food,” Thomas Vanderwende said with his eyes widening with imagination. “When the time is right we will expand.”

TNT Steak Burgers is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11-8, staying open until 9 on Friday and Saturday. For more information call 651-4922.