Ohana Style

Ohana Style restaurant had been around for over a quarter of a century, occupying its original location on Piikoi Street in Honolulu. Breakfast drew the largest crowd.

The tables filled quickly. I took the elderly Kimura’s order, commenting on their youthfulness.

“It’s the food, Nani,” winked Mr. Kimura, gratefully accepting a refill of Kona coffee. The demure Mrs. Kimura chuckled behind her hand. I was about to ask after their daughter and grandchildren when another customer walked in. Kay, my mother and the restaurant’s manager, quickly ushered him to a table.

They were both laughing and I was immediately drawn by the stranger’s deeply lined face, laughter creating miniature rainbows at the corners of his mouth, warmed from lines that seemed to radiate from his eyes.

“Al, this my daughter Nani,” Kay announced as I approached.

Al’s brown eyes sparkled from beneath dark, bushy eyebrows. He gave me an appraising look followed by a quick nod, “Aloha, Nani, I’m happy to finally meet the daughter of Aunty Kay.” His voice was as rich and smooth as the Kona coffee I poured into coffee mugs all morning. Nodding in response, I became confused by an inexplicable familiarity in his presence.

Later that evening, I asked Kay about Al.

“Ah,” she said, “Al is Uncle Joe’s hanai’ed son. He’s visiting from the mainland.”

Uncle Joe was an Ohana Style regular who liked his poi pancakes with eggs over easy. He died last summer.

“Why is Al here? He didn’t go to Uncle Joe’s funeral.”

Kay shook her head slowly. “Nani, such a silly question. He came for the food!”

“Really, mama, he came all the way from the mainland for the food?” Annoyance laced my words.

A shadow fell on Kay’s face. “Nani, for some, the food not special. For others, taro make us family.”

Taro was in everything Ohana Style served, from the poi pancakes at breakfast to the taro fries that went with the burgers and fried chicken at lunch and dinner.

Kay continued, “You know, Nani, taro was always part of Ohana Style menu. The first owners were from Kauai, their family grew taro from wetland taro patches. When they planted and harvested their taro, it was a family affair. Boiling, peeling, grinding the taro into poi…was a lot of work! But also had time to talk story, play music, sing, dance…time for ohana to bond–stick–like the poi.”

Grade school Hawaiiana taught me of taro’s resiliency; that it not only survived but thrived after natural disasters of hurricane and tidal waves that devastated other food crops in Hawaii. The symbolism of Ohana was not lost on me; family was the one safe harbor where its members sheltered, weathering the man-made storms of life.

The next morning, I put on a brighter shade of lip gloss and pinned fresh plumerias in my chignon.

My pulse quickened at Al’s big smile as I handed him the menu.

Placing pancakes and eggs on his table, he beckoned me to sit.

“I hope you don’t mind if I eat and talk,” he said by way of apology, cutting into his pancake.

“That’s fine,” I said, allowing my eyes to roam and admire his head of thick black hair peppered with premature gray, linger momentarily on the prominent nose that anchored his symmetrical face, then to a well-defined chest when suddenly, his eyes leveled with mine. Blood rushed to my ears. He smiled without showing his teeth and washed his food down with black coffee.

“Nani, I’m flying back to the mainland tomorrow…to my wife and kids. I came to Honolulu to make pono with my ohana here.”

“Pono? You’re carrying guilt over something and came seeking forgiveness?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“You want to tell me about it?”

He nodded.

His next words fell low and heavy, “Nani, when I left Honolulu many years ago, your Uncle Joe and I… we weren’t on speaking terms. I was young, just out of high school. My girlfriend was hapai, pregnant with our child. He was angry. I didn’t have a job and had no plans for college. We exchanged words.” His eyes turned wistful. “There are some things better left unsaid.”

I shifted in my chair, attempting to shake a feeling of uneasiness that took root in my gut.

He gave me a beseeching look. “Nani, I’m telling you this because Joe considered you ohana.”

“Long story,” he continued, smiling sadly, “It was then I found out I was hanai’ed. My biological parents arranged so there was money for college. I had no other options so that’s what I did. Left my girlfriend. She moved in with her parents who put a restraining order on me. I left for the mainland. Years passed. When Mom called to say Joe had cancer, I wasn’t ready to forgive.”

He turned to survey the tables and the remaining customers. “She was the first to notice that Joe wasn’t so nauseated after eating here. They became regulars.” Al winked at me. Heat burned my cheeks. “Joe liked talking story with Kay. And watching you grow up.”

Weakly I asked, “You came to make pono with Joe’s family?”

Al fixed me in his gaze. He spoke carefully. “No, Nani. I came to make pono with my ex-girlfriend’s child.” His voice caught, and the words thickened, “Kay already granted me her forgiveness. It was time to ask forgiveness from my daughter.”

Talk story

Leave one comment for Ohana Style

This website uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to its use of cookies.