Tag Archives: 13

Once Upon a Restaurant

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Kana Girl’s Hawaiian BBQ on a busy Friday night

Once Upon a Time…  Kana & Keoni owned a Hawai’ian barbecue restaurant.

For more than a year, Kana Girl’s Hawai’ian BBQ held UrbanSpoon’s #1 spot for “Best BBQ restaurant” in the Treasure Valley (home to one-third of Idaho’s population)…. And we had a kick-ass time of it, building a unique atmosphere with our combined knowledge of Hawai’ian culture and Keoni’s cooking—the authentic family recipes he learned from his Tutu Pa (grandfather) when he was a small kid. The word our guests most often used to describe Keoni’s food (a little ironic in view of our own alcoholic/addict backgrounds) was: ADDICTIVE.  We were closed Sundays & Mondays, which meant we’d have an onslaught of regular customers every Tuesday, jonesing for a “fix” because they’d had to go two days without his food. No joke.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

A photo featured in “Boise Weekly” with a rave review of our restaurant… Keoni & me displaying a couple “Plate Lunches”…

When we first opened the restaurant, we hadn’t realized what an abundant number of Hawai’ians and Pacific Islanders lived in this area, but word quickly spread among the “Local” community (“Local” being a word Hawai’ians use to refer to other Islanders, regardless of their current location) and we quickly had a flood of folks looking to test us to see if Keoni’s food were the “real thing.” He passed the authenticity test, hands down—his “plate lunch” (a to-go container with sticky rice, mac salad, and favorite Island entrees) is precisely what the Local folks remember from back home. Word-of-Mouth served us well; most months we didn’t spend a dime on advertising—but business was booming.

Island Time Zone

The two of us ran the place by ourselves–the original “Mom & Pop” approach—so we had the pleasure of getting to know our many Regulars, and after a while we couldn’t go anywhere in town without being pounced on and identified as “the Hawai’ian BBQ people.” No doubt it’s the closest we’ll ever come to experiencing “celebrity” status. (Keoni follows the Hawai’ian custom of addressing everyone as “Bruddah” or “Sistah”–a personable habit that came in handy in the occasional encounter when we were unable to put names to the faces of people who obviously recognized US…)

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Wally & Esther—a friendship that began with “Howzit”… Enjoying Lau Lau, an ULTRA-traditional Hawai’ian dish

It led to some interesting social dynamics at times… During our first week of business a gentleman came in the front door and I greeted him with “Howzit“–the Island version of “Hey, how’s it going?” He literally stopped dead in his tracks and repeated the word with a question mark. He looked “Local” to me, but I expanded with an explanation: “Howzit–How’s it going?” He looked askance at my haole (white!) self and retorted, “I know Howzit. How do you know Howzit?” I explained that I went to school on the Big Island, and that I’m married to a Hawai’ian (the cook)—and once he tasted (or should I say tested) his first Plate Lunch order, he was hooked. In fact, he and his wife became some of our closest friends in the years that followed.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ taro

Keoni  “playing ukelele” on a taro root

And then there were my Friday-morning rounds to the Asian markets in town… We made our fries from the taro root (the Hawai’ian staple from which they make poi)–but taro is understandably difficult to come by in Idaho. All the Asian markets got their produce shipments on Friday mornings, which meant that every Friday the markets would be swamped with lovely ladies who came up to my shoulder… And every Friday I made the rounds of all those markets, buying up their taro root. I’m not sure what the Chinese words would be for “tattooed white lady who buys the taro,” but chances are that I’d recognize the phrase if I ever heard it again… The taro fries were a hit—and we noticed that although people occasionally asked if we had poi, very few people actually asked for it. Let’s just say that poi is an acquired taste.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Keoni on a “charm walk,” sharing a shaka with a connoisseur of the keiki (kids’) menu

Whenever Keoni had a few minutes of down-time in the kitchen, he’d wend his way through the dining room (I called it his “Charm Walk”) speaking Hawai’ian Pidgin with the Local folks and “talking story” with other diners.  (Pidgin is a recognized language in the Islands, so Keoni was considered a Bilingual Officer when he worked in the prisons there…) He also sang in the kitchen all day long–he’s got a gorgeous tenor voice and knows all the classic Hawai’ian songs by heart… His Tutu Pa was a musician, and taught Keoni to sing as well as to cook–and also to blend the things he’s passionate about.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ kanikapila

Piko (one of our regulars) kicking back for some kanikapila after a meal

Our restaurant was the kind of place where diners (who didn’t know each other) would chat among tables, where people would bring ukeleles and indulge in an impromptu kanikapila (“jam session”) when they finished eating, where a couple might get up and dance in the middle of the floor to one of Keoni’s solos, where regular customers would drop in to say Aloha and give us a hug even when they weren’t there to eat, where people brought in all kinds of Hawai’ian mementos until our decor was a wonderfully collaborative clutter, where we could get to know people’s regular requests and personalize their orders (that’s also how we ended up with Vegetarian and Gluten-Free menus), where people could slow down from the hectic pace of their lives and enjoy a mini-vacation in our “ISLAND TIME zone” (as the sign above the door proclaimed)… We liked to think of it as an embassy of sorts—a few hundred square feet of Hawai’ian soil in the middle of Idaho.

We loved being able to work together—we were happy to go to work together every morning, and we were happy to go home together every evening. We were only half joking when we’d say that Keoni was afraid of the cash register and I was afraid of the smoker—but together we made a Most Excellent Team.  And Keoni liked to boast that he got “paid in kisses and tattoos.” Whenever a diner told me I should give the cook a raise, I’d lay a big ol’ smooch on him!

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

evidently this chick doesn’t look like a business owner…

We regularly ran up against sexist stereotypes when dealing with salespeople and the like; very few people made their first approach with the idea that I might be the “businessperson” of the operation. One salesman came in while Keoni was out picking up supplies, and insisted on sitting and waiting until my husband returned, rather than talking to me. When Keoni came back half an hour later, you can imagine the guy’s chagrin when Keoni told him, “You’ll have to talk to Kana Girl about that. She’s the owner—I just cook.” Needless to say, this guy had already lost any chance of making a sale. Other people would ask me if they could talk to the owner (never mind my apron with “Kana” across the front, and the “Kana Girl’s” name across the front door)—and one fellow went so far as to ask me if I knew who the owner was. (Surely it couldn’t be the tattooed chick in the miniskirt!)


Keoni at the restaurant with the youngest 4 of our 7 kids: Christian, Kapena, Elena Grace, & Kawika

We were also both very happy about NOT having to work for anybody else. It was one of our favorite jokes, whenever anyone asked if we could make a substitution or fulfill a special request—Keoni would answer, “Well, I’ll have to check with Corporate…” Then he’d turn to me with the question: “So what do you think, Babe?” (We also joked that if I were “Corporate,” that made Keoni my “Corporate Man-date”…)  We loved being able to do things the way WE thought they should be done, and we loved being able to involve our keikis (kids) in the family business.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQLooking back now… Opening that restaurant when we did looks in retrospect like a totally harebrained idea. We were deep in a recession and eateries were closing left and right. Neither of us had ever owned a business, we’d only known each other for half a year, and only been Sober for that same half-year. Launching a restaurant just then was a crazy-ass thing to do. And we had a lot to learn! But all in all, it went beautifully. In fact, in some ways it was an advantage to be new to the restaurant business, because we weren’t hidebound by “The Way Things Are Done.” (Take the zero-dollar advertising budget, for example…) Although I also have to say that there were plenty of other things, learned along the way, that we would definitely handle differently if we ever had a “do-over.”

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Keoni with another Keoni, who gave us his old license plate to hang on the wall

In the end, we threw our beautiful restaurant away. We didn’t lose it; we threw it away. After a year and a half of booming business, we drank again. In a mere matter of weeks, we threw away absolutely everything that was important to our Sober Selves. Custody of our kids, our restaurant, our house, our car, and almost our marriage. (People regularly ask us if we ever fight—a question usually accompanied by the observation that we clearly have a lot of fun together. The honest answer is that we don’t argue… when we’re Sober. When we drank, we didn’t even like each other.)

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Keoni cooking on his smoker—in sunshine, rain, sleet, or snow… And always in shorts! Crazy Hawai’ian.

That was a little more than two years ago. If we could take back the hurt we caused to the people who love us—particularly our kids and our parents—we’d do it in a heartbeat. But at the same time… There are a lot of things about our journey of the last couple years that we wouldn’t want to trade. (In fact, that’s probably a whole post in its own right.) Bottom line, though: despite the financial struggles and various challenges of the last 27 months, we’re in a better place now than we’ve ever been—spiritually, emotionally, in terms of our Sobriety and our family relationships… in every way, actually, except financially.

And then… An unexpected blessing fell into our laps. Keoni had a retirement account from his career in Corrections; we’d been trying to avoid tapping into that resource, but we’d been falling behind on our rent, and he had a couple surgeries to get through (last week’s spine surgery, and another knee replacement coming up) before he could get back to working… So we finally decided we’d better go ahead and cash out his retirement. We thought it would be just enough to catch up on our rent and pay ahead a few months while we figured out “what next”… But when the check arrived, it turned out to be quite a lot more than we’d expected. In fact…

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

a wakeboard made for us (and autographed) by one of our regular customers

It turned out to be enough to re-open our restaurant. Seriously, how often in life do we actually get a “do-over”? Well, we just got handed one. To quote one of our favorite A.A. guys: “How cool is THAT?!”

Things have been falling into place the way only God’s plans do. (One of the things we’ve learned in Sobriety is that when we’re working too hard to try and make something happen, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate whether “our plan” is really the best thing to be doing. Not surprisingly, God’s ideas are better than ours.)

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

“Coming Soon!”

We found the perfect location almost immediately. It’s  ideally situated from a business perspective, and it’s right next door to Elena Grace’s school and within walking distance of Christian’s junior high. There’s even a private space upstairs that we can use as a “family room” when the younger kids are there with us.

This time around we also have the advantage of some eager extra hands within the family. Our teenage son Kapena has already been working full-time between two jobs, and he can’t wait to quit those  jobs to work with us. Even Christian is gung-ho about being part of the venture. And we have the chance this time to put into practice all the things we learned the “hard way” the last time around. I can’t even begin to describe how excited we are.

We’re set to open April 13 (our lucky number 13!), giving the landlord time to do some remodeling and updating of the building, and giving us time to “remodel” the cook (those surgeries I mentioned). The restaurant website is still under construction, but I do have the menus posted: www.KanaGirlBBQ.com. And so… The next adventure begins! Stay tuned…

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

our “save the date” card

Something to Prove (or… “MOMMY can change a tire!”)

My hubby and I were having a thought-provoking conversation the other day, about the (sometimes) delicate balance between care-taking and independence.  He knows me well enough to understand that I have a sort of fierce pride in the knowledge that I can take care of myself.  In the year that I was single, I bought my own house, worked on my own landscaping, mowed my own lawn, kept the tires rotated and oil changed on my own car, made my own meals, managed my own bills, took my own vacations…

changing oil

changing the oil this morning… “I either need some more muscle or some more torque!”

There’s a story that has pretty much become a family punch-line, about the afternoon when my son Christian (seven at the time) and I arrived at my car in the supermarket parking lot and realized a tire had gone flat; Christian’s reflexive response was to wail, “Oh no–we don’t have a man with us!” To which I replied (with a fair amount of heat, it must be admitted), “OH noMOMMY can change a tire!”    I did change the tire (refusing several offers of help, in fact–on fire to prove a point) and we went on our way.

Four years later, any conversation on the topic of what-moms-are-capable-of-doing is likely to be punctuated by Christian roaring “Mommy can change a tire!” (and then collapsing into giggles). Evidently I made my point…

All that to say… I’m a person who can get unreasonably prickly at any implication that I’m incapable of doing things for myself.  Keoni and our sons joke that I’m “one of the guys,” and it’s true that I have a strong tendency toward some stereotypical guy-traits… I’ll refuse to go to the doctor until my chest-cold has turned into walking pneumonia, I can’t bear to ask directions when I’m lost, I’d rather spend hours trying to figure something out by myself than simply ask someone who knows, when I argue with someone I’m all about logic and dismissive of emotion…  I always wanted to be the girl who took care of her own shit.

But you wouldn’t guess this if you watched our household for a few days, because I am spoiled now. Keoni argues the semantics and says I’m not spoiled, just “well taken care of“–but I suspect most folks would agree with my verbiage. He does all the grocery shopping, cooks three meals a day for the family (every day), brings me breakfast and coffee in bed (every day), does all my laundry (and returns it to my closet according to my own peculiar system of organization), is the sole master of both the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower… I don’t even remember the last time I shaved my own legs. I am spoiled. And purring instead of prickling.

changing oil

Like my funnel? A soda-bottle dug out of the recycle bin and cut in half… Household on a budget! :)

What happened to the prickly-and-independent Me? I can only guess (and this was the topic of our conversation the other morning) that it’s Keoni’s acknowledgement–celebration, even–of my capacity for independence that relaxed me into allowing and enjoying his care-taking.  I don’t have anything to prove with him–he already believes in me.

He’s also enthusiastic about sharing knowledge with me–and for the first time in my adult life, I don’t feel threatened by being taught. I’m learning to handle a pistol. Today I learned how to change the oil on the car. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s so clearly an intellectual equal that makes this so easy. It might sound counterintuitive, but I was more fierce-and-prickly about these things when I was an admittedly “dominant” partner—in my first marriage it was a joke between us (in friendlier days) that my Ex was the “chick” in the relationship, and I was the “guy.” Too much truth to it, unfortunately—it was not a relationship of equals, in too many ways, and I was always walking a fine line between “taking care of shit” and not making him feel threatened by me. Is it ass-backward that that was the time in my life when I was the most protective of my position as a-person-who-could-manage? Maybe… it’s because I didn’t have the luxury of lost-ness or “weakness.” If I didn’t step up, nobody would.

My first husband… didn’t have anything to teach me. In fact, he drove me kind of crazy with the things he couldn’t understand. His lack of a grasp of the basic (intuitive, I would have thought) principles of physics hampered activities ranging from home-improvement projects to sailing, I couldn’t talk about literature with him, and his response to being asked to read my writing was to get grumpy. His first year of teaching biology, I wrote his lesson-plans for him, and explained them every morning, and got into a shouting match with him on the Evolution unit when he wouldn’t treat the word “theory” in its scientific sense. Anything that he didn’t do, he made a point of belittling. My cross-country running wasn’t a real sport, my Master’s degree in creative writing wasn’t a real thesis, my stay-home-motherhood wasn’t a real job. (Though when I went back into the work-force and he was faced with summers at home, the kids went right into daycare. Hmm.) I was in a constant tug-of-war with myself between flaring up in defensive anger when my contributions were belittled, and “dumbing myself down” to appease his insecurities.

changing oil

#79 was our son’s football number last year (and Keoni’s before him)… He says this year he’s going to be #13–our lucky number!

Today, in contrast, when I was struggling to loosen the nut on the oil pan, I could freely comment that I needed either some more muscle or some more torque. (Since we didn’t have a wrench with a longer handle, Keoni lent me the muscle, and then I got right back under the car.) I spent fourteen years editing myself at home rather than saying what I knew. Maybe that’s why I was wired to be so desperate to show “I know!“–and so loathe to admit when I didn’t.

I did nothing but stunt myself with that, and I’m joyful now to be growing again, and learning. Joyful to be with someone who has things to teach me, and who is open to new things from me as well.  And joyful that  MOMMY can change the oil… now.

Lucky 13 for One Mommy

Mother's Day 2011

May 13, 2011–me with my mom & Christian Rogelio… My first Mother’s Day & his baptism day. (GREAT look I had going on with the braces, glasses, bad haircut, & leftover pregnant-fat-face… And I cleverly got an eight-year driver’s license right about then. Shudder!)

The last time Mother’s Day was on the thirteenth (my lucky number!) was the year 2001–my first Mother’s Day as a Mommy.  It was also the day we baptized my son Christian, wearing the same christening-gown I’d worn twenty-six years earlier. My parents have shared it with many family friends in the intervening years, and my mother had embroidered each child’s name and baptism-date into the lining–beginning with mine, and with Christian’s as the newest addition.

On the first Mother’s Day I spent with my daughter in the world, she was in Neonatal Intensive Care and I had a sore throat–which meant I couldn’t take my germs in to see her on Mother’s Day.  Already stressed and stretched to my limits by two months of shuttling between my NICU-baby and my child-at-home, being shut out of the NICU on Mother’s Day felt like the proverbial back-breaking straw. Except you can’t let your back break when you’re Mom; you keep going anyway.  I honestly believed that would be my roughest Mother’s Day ever.


Playing Princess with Elena Grace on Mother’s Day 2010

Last year, however, Mother’s Day found us just six months out from our devastating alcoholic relapse, with NO visitation of our kids, and legal action filed by my Ex trying to terminate my parental rights. And although Christian told my Mom on Mother’s Day that he wanted to call me, my Ex wouldn’t put the kids on the phone, claiming they didn’t want to talk to me anymore. THAT, God willing, was the roughest Mother’s Day I ever hope to see.

In contrast to that (or even taken entirely on its own!) today was absolutely beautiful, in every sense. We had three of our seven kids with us (we have joint custody again of the younger two, and full custody of our teenager), I opened cards with hearts and owls on them, and Christian told me contentedly that “HOME is where my MOM is!” Today I am absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.

I’ve been gifted with a kick-ass mom of my own (more on that topic tomorrow)–and despite my screw-ups in life, I still get to be Mommy to mine. Truly, I’m blessed!

Mother's Day owl card

Christian’s card today for Mother’s Day