Now in its second full year of business, ‘Uala Leaf Cafe is bringing a lot of new changes.
One is the leadership of head chef Andrew Bell, who was hired last October to replace Jonas Low who moved back to California.
“It has been a quick four months,” Bell said. “It’s been great. It’s a good community within the school but also surrounding the school that helps support the cafe.”
Bell grew up near Washington, D.C., and went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He cooked in places like Florida, Ohio and Washington D.C., before moving to Hawai‘i.
“I grew up on the mainland, and I was the only one out of my family that didn’t live here,” Bell said. “Before I moved out here five years ago, I contacted a buddy of mine and my family and asked what the food scene was like out here, and the rest is history.”
Bell and chef Stephen Maeshiro, who used to work with Bell at Magnolia Bakery in Ala Moana Shopping Center, are looking to create new menu items that incorporate their own food styles.
Bell enjoys cooking soul food and smoking meats. Maeshiro specializes in traditional Japanese dishes and has worked at notable Japanese restaurants in Honolulu like Restaurant Suntory and Hakone Restaurant.
“We’re trying to keep it different and excite your taste buds,” Bell said about the menu changes. “It’s huge working with Blue Zones Hawai‘i (a community-wide, well-being improvement initiative to help make healthy choices easier in Hawai‘i). An example would be our cream of mushroom soup. Traditionally, you would use a dairy, a milk or cream, but we are using coconut milk. That’s something we’ve been doing in the cafe. Little things like that are good substitutes to make things vegan when it is usually not a vegan dish.”
‘Uala Leaf Cafe features a variety of affordable daily entrees, including a mix of local style favorites, heart healthy, vegetarian and vegan options. New menu items include the tofu hamburger with brown gravy and the roasted kabocha and Brussels sprouts. Dessert items include chocolate pudding, tapioca vanilla pudding and a signature coffee jello with sweetened condensed milk.
Along with the new menu, the cafe has also increased the price of some of its items.
“There was a small price increase on the burgers and cheeseburgers by 50 cents,” said WCC workforce development coordinator Charlene Akina. “We now have add-ons for the burgers. For an extra 50 cents, you can add on the mushrooms, bacon, tomatoes. These are the only price increases to the menu.”
Akina said she has seen an increase in business this year.
“We are busier here in the cafeteria,” she said. “We are also getting more community people who have never been here before that are coming in. Carolyn Yamada is our marketing specialist, and she is doing a good job.”
The ‘Uala Leaf Cafe is the operations portion of the Hi‘ilaniwai Foodservice Innovations Training Program (HiFIT). HiFIT is a program that teaches students basic skills that are needed in the foodservice industry.
The program will be offering new classes this spring. Among them are Food from the Gods – Mo‘olelo Series (April 14 from 9-11:30 a.m. in Uala Leaf Cafe) and Weeds on My Plate – Mo‘olelo Series (April 20 from 9-11:30 a.m. in Uala Leaf Cafe).
Mahana Beamer, a Hi’ilaniwai Foodservice Innovations chef instructor, will be teaching the classes. Tuti Kanahele, a Hawaiian language instructor and cultural specialist at WCC, will assist with the Food from the Gods class. The classes are $45 each.
Beamer is also teaching a Food Safety and Sanitation Certification course to WCC students at Puck’s Alley in Honolulu. Those students will be working in the ‘Uala Leaf kitchen starting in March.
Another goal that the cafe is focused on this year is becoming more green. It now gets vegetables and spices from the Nursing Pathway garden on campus and uses a worm bin to get rid of extra or unused food.
Amid all the new changes, Bell just wants to see more people in the cafe and to serve more customers.
“It’s just coming in with an open mind and trying something that you might not have thought you’d like,” Bell said. “They say that your palette and allergies adjust every six years, so you can always try something at least once. That should be the life motto.”
‘Uala Leaf Cafe is open Monday through Friday and serves lunch from 11 a.m to 1:30 p.m. It is located on the ground floor of Hale ‘Ākoakoa. For more information, contact Charlene Akina at email@example.com.
by Leighland Tagawa, Ka ‘Ohana Editor in Chief