Mobile Market Parks It
It’s past peak dinner time on a Friday evening, but Hula Shrimp Company still is filling a steady stream of orders from its pop-up tent at 1011 Ala Moana Blvd., piling dishes such as seared garlic ahi and guava chicken generously alongside rice and mac salad. Down the way, another food truck, Tacochino, which is noted for its $1.50 pork tacos, has a line at least a dozen deep. Surrounding these popups are a row of other trucks and tents that serve pizza, seafood, pastele and more.
This may be a typical scene for the monthly Eat The Street events, but now it’s an almost daily occurrence at Makers & Tasters Kewalo, a permanent setup for a rotating set of food vendors. Created by Street Grindz, the same team that powers Eat The Street and Honolulu Night Market, Makers & Tasters launched Aug. 28, fronting the water at Kewalo Harbor.
Its permanence was welcome news for Rachel Nisperos, who runs Hula Shrimp alongside her family and says that the pop-up eatery has provided a financial boost to supplement her income as a realtor.
“It allows us to have a stable income — and we’re able to employ others. So it’s a blessing not just for us, but also for (our employees),” Nisperos says, adding that her children, a few of their friends and her boyfriend all work there.
“Especially with the way that the economy is going, there aren’t too many jobs out there,” she continues. “So this is a good thing — it’s a really good thing.”
While Makers & Tasters’ obvious goal is to serve up a varied selection of food, which it does, the underlying one is encapsulated in Nisperos’ statement — and it’s that which really drives Street Grindz founders, husband-and-wife team Brandon and Poni Askew. Through all of their events, the Askews aim to bolster local businesses — and now, as a permanent location, Makers & Tasters provides perhaps the most significant opportunity yet.
“(We want) to really have an impact on small food businesses of Hawaii, to provide a platform for them to share what they are doing,” Brandon says.
While organizers and vendors admit it’s been slow-going at Makers & Tasters so far (the weather likely a large reason for that), the marketplace comes from a successful stock: Street Grindz events have been wildly popular. When the Askews hosted the first Eat The Street in 2010, there were 12 vendors. Nowadays, Street Grindz has a network of more than 250 vendors, hundreds of thousands of social media followers and has served millions of meals. In addition to its Kakaako events, Street Grindz also has held Eat The Street throughout the island — including Mililani, Pearl City and Ewa Beach — and hosts pop-ups at ARTafterDARK.
“If I knew the algorithm (of why this works), I would be a millionaire,” Poni says with a laugh, before going on to muse, “It’s almost like finding that gem hole-in-the-wall (restaurant) that nobody knows about — and you get to … sample from 40 of them.”
Even with its range of events, Street Grindz was getting calls — pleas, even — from vendors: Could they be involved in the next event? Were there other opportunities?
“We were really trying to find ways to make it happen for everybody, and it just got super challenging,” Poni recalls. “Our (monthly events) weren’t accommodating everybody … So we started thinking about other things that we could do.”
Enter Makers & Tasters. Open six days a week (closed Sundays), Makers & Tasters features at least a handful of vendors at any given time, and as it continues to expand, that number will jump to 12-15. Plus, there’s a full bar (official name pending) by Matt Choy and Derek Stevens (aka Free Spirits Mobile Bartenders), who also run the bars at Eat The Street and Night Market. It’s set to be a permanent fixture at the site, housed atop a raised seating area in the center of the lot.
The Makers & Tasters space, currently, is about two-thirds of the way done. Still to come is more seating — to accommodate a total of about 200 guests — as well as additional shaded areas and lighting.
Doing that, they say, simply will enable them to help more food entrepreneurs.
Prior to launching Street Grindz, Poni had thought she wanted to be a food truck vendor herself — and was working to develop a line of frozen sweets. But it was somewhere in the midst of concocting recipes and prepping fruit that her dreams began to take on a different form.
“I decided that that wasn’t my thing — seeing people succeed and achieve their goals is really what makes me tick, not chopping watermelons,” she recalls.
Street Grindz operates as something of an in-the-trenches business incubator. For each vendor, it offers guidance and tips, if on an informal level, to help them increase sales or troubleshoot problems.
“We believe in small business — we are small business,” Brandon says. “It is satisfying and gratifying to be able to support them so that they can achieve their goals.”
For some, that support has been crucial.
For Kelli Mukawa, who owns handcrafted tea bar Tea On Fleek, participating in Street Grindz events has helped her build up the young business, which launched last February. Mukawa has been posting up at Makers & Tasters a few times a week.
“This lot here kind of suffices as a storefront for me,” explains Mukawa as she scoops a heap of fresh fruit into a cup of tea, “so I don’t have to pay crazy rent at a mall, and I can be here consistently.”
Across the lot, there’s Petit Suisse Crepes, which travels to six markets a week across the island. The exposure that it’s gotten at Eat The Street and Honolulu Night Market, owner Kris Kiyono says, has allowed it to build a loyal customer base — one that follows it to its other locations.
It’s late, past official closing time, by the time vendors finally begin taking down their tents and packing up for the night. There are still some customers lounging around the lot, but it’s time for the vendors to get home — many of them will be up at it again early tomorrow.
“These guys spend probably 15-16 hours a day getting their stuff together, chopping, cooking, hauling it over to multiple locations, waiting around to sell it. Then they have to go back and wash everything up, and get up for the next day’s work,” Poni says. “It’s a lot — and I respect that.”
MEET THE MAKERS
Here are just a few of the food vendors that you can find regularly at Makers & Tasters:
ALOHA PLATE local specialties like venison chili and loco moco
AUNTY NEE’S KITCHEN – Puerto Rican food, including homemade pastele
HULA SHRIMP COMPANY – plate lunches with options like guava chicken and shrimp
FLYIN’ AHI poke plates and daily seafood specials
FIREHOUSE – Chamorro food, including chicken kelaguen and red rice
INFERNO’S WOOD FIRE PIZZA fresh wood-fired pizza
I LOVE TACOS – tacos, burritos and other Mexican dishes
KAU KAU GRILL garlic shrimp, barbecue ribs, poke bowls
LA ROUX HAWAII New Orleans-style eats like boudin balls, crawfish and po’boys
PETIT SUISSE CREPES – savory and sweet crepes
TACOCHINO – street tacos and torta
TEA ON FLEEK – handcrafted teas with flavors like Mango Mojito
BE A TASTER
You can taste what these makers have to offer for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Friday 6-9 a.m., 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and 4:30-9:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 10 p.m. Makers & Tasters is closed on Sundays.
The vendor schedule varies daily, and hours are subject to change. View updates at makersandtasters.com.