Upcountry Cuisine meets Downtown Cool
By Brandon Bosworth
Earlier this year, college students from around the United States visited Hawaii as part of Colorado State University’s Semester at Sea program. One of their first stops while in Honolulu? Moku Kitchen in Kakaako, where they learned about sustainability and the farm-to-table concept from a restaurant with a passion for using locally sourced products.
General manager Mason Hundhausen gave the students an introduction to the restaurant, as well as a tour of the kitchen to demonstrate Moku’s dedication to fresh ingredients.
“We try to get in a few opportunities to work with schools or organizations for underprivileged kids every year,” he said. “We show them what working in a restaurant is like and how involved we are with local farmers and food sustainability.”
About 40 or 50 students participated in the tour. “They came from all over the nation,” Hundhausen said. “It was pretty awesome to see their reactions, especially kids from places that mostly have generic, chain restaurants.”
Moku Kitchen is anything but a “generic, chain restaurant.” Named after the Hawaiian word for “island,” the establishment is the brainchild of chef Peter Merriman and restaurateur Bill Terry. It’s the newest venture of their Handcrafted Restaurants, and is a culinary cousin of Merriman and Terry’s Monkeypod Kitchen.
The theme of Moku Kitchen, “Up-country Downtown,” is expressed in the food and decor. “‘Upcountry’ is reflected in the fact the restaurant gets as many ingredients as possible from the local community on Oahu,” said assistant general manager Randy Marsh. “Then we work our way out to the neighbor islands if we need to. The ‘downtown’ comes from our Kakaako location, and our vibe and ambiance, which is very urban.”
One of the popular menu items reflecting Moku Kitchen’s emphasis on fresh, local ingredients is its ahi poke, which uses Hawaii-caught tuna, local kukui nuts, Olakai Hawaii ogo, Waipoli Hydroponic Greens butter lettuce, shoyu, jalapenos and taro chips.
In addition to supporting local agriculture, Moku Kitchen also supports local musicians. The restaurant serves as a music venue during its happy hour from 3 to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, though Marsh said soon they will be offering live performances Tuesday through Sunday. “The artists play lots of mellow, original music,” he said, adding that local musicians usually reach out to Moku Kitchen by sending sound clips or links to their online videos. Depending on the time of year, Moku Kitchen generally employs 100 to 120 people, and the company is always open to new hires.
“We try to focus on entry level positions both in the front and the back of the house,” Hundhausen said. “That’s because we are committed to promoting from within. We want employees to feel like they are moving forward through training and hard work.”
Hundhausen adds that being a good cultural fit is a big factor when considering potential new hires. “We can teach you the skills to do your job as long as you are a hard worker. You need to be able to deal with very high volume and handle a fast pace.”
Marsh listed positivity as an important trait for prospective employees. “We want someone who is generally interested in craft food and beverages, local farming and sustainability.”
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COMPANY: Moku Kitchen
LOCATION: 660 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 145, Kakaako
EMPLOYEES: About 100
BENEFITS: Medical, dental, 401(k), vacation, food and beverage discounts
NOTEWORTHY: Employees can earn “Moku Bucks” for providing exceptional service. Moku Bucks can be used like cash in-house.
ANTHONY CONSILLIO PHOTOS