Eatery Honors Hawaii’s Cowboy Tradition
By Brandon Bosworth
Since opening its first location in Kailua Shopping Center in 2015, Paniolos Hawaii has specialized in serving up Mexican food with a local twist.
Launched by husband and wife duo Chris and Sara Lufrano — who also own Aloha Salads — along with their friends Oscar and Tamara Valdivia from Mexico, the restaurant offers customers a build-your-own burrito, taco or bowl by pointing at the options behind the counter. It’s a four-step process. Diners first choose a base, such as salad or Mexican rice. Step two is beans; step three is protein; and last is toppings.
True to its name, Paniolos is committed to preserving and promoting Hawaii’s cowboy heritage.
“In the 1800s, real cowboys were hired by the Hawaiian royalty to teach the Hawaiians how to train cattle and horses,” said Sara Lufrano. “The term paniolo was given to these Hawaiian cowboys by the Mexican and Spanish cowboys.
With the Mexican/Spanish influence, we named the restaurant Paniolos as it made sense to reference the Hawaiian cowboys and tie that into the relationship with the Mexican food.”
This respect for Hawaii’s cowboy heritage is part of the reason Paniolos is committed to supporting local ranchers.
“We use grass-fed local beef from Kualoa Ranch and Big Island,” said Lufrano. “We use organic chicken and organic tofu and make everything from scratch — all of our beans, meats, salsas and guacamole are made fresh daily. We use no cans. Our customers call us the closest thing to Chipotle on the island, but way better.”
Neither of the Lufranos have a formal culinary background. “We just love to cook!” Lufrano said. “We started with Aloha Salads because I love salads. We spread to Mexican food because my husband loves Mexican food.”
After the success of the original Kailua location, Paniolos expanded to a second restaurant at Kapolei Commons in March of this year. A third location is scheduled to open at Kahala Mall Oct. 1.
“We just want to keep making delicious, healthy food at affordable prices for our local people to eat every day!” Lufrano said.
As the restaurant continues to grow, so does its need for employees.
“Paniolos is looking for people who want to grow with us,” Lufrano said. “We hire all of our managers from within and train them from the beginning. We are looking for positive people who love great food and want to be part of a family environment. We want our employees to stay with us at least through high school and college and grow with us.”
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COMPANY: Paniolos Hawaii
LOCATION: 600 Kailua Road, Kailua (also Kapolei Commons)
OWNERS: Sara and Chris Lufrano
YEAR OPENED: 2015
EMPLOYEES: About 40
BENEFITS: Training, medical, free meals