A Kahaluu Luau That Goes Back 80 Years

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - July 06, 2011
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Placing a pig into the imu. Photo from Jo McGarry

If you want to find the perfect wine to pair with Hawaiian food, then there’s probably not a better person to ask than Michael Hopkins. He’s the regional sales manager for Majestic Fine Wines, a company with a portfolio that includes dozens of award-winning wines, including Kendall Jackson. But it’s not just Hopkins’ experience in the wine world that makes him the go-to man for advice on a wine to pair with kalua pig, but rather the generations of his family involved with the longest-running luau fundraiser in the Islands.

Most people don’t even realize Hopkins is part Hawaiian.

“I guess I’ve kind of taken on the personality of our company,” he says with a smile. “But I’m very involved in preserving the traditions of our culture and carrying on the work of my grandfather and my father.”

It’s work that has spanned generations, and as Hopkins and a legion of volunteers prepare for their annual luau, they carry on where his grandfather left off.

“My grandfather John Townsend was a founder of St. John’s By-the-Sea in Kahalu’u,” explains Hopkins, “and my father returned here after his ministry in Hanalei to serve the community.”

The luau started in 1931 as a way to raise funds for the tiny church and to continue spiritual work among the community of fishermen and their families.

Hopkins, as junior warden of St. John’s, is making sure the legacy continues. Anyone who’s ever organized a graduation party or a birthday luau knows that preparation is key, and if you happen to stop by the church any day this week, you’re likely to find an army of enthusiastic cooks preparing mountains of food.

All the traditional dishes are made from scratch, crabs are fished locally, with pigs placed with care into imu and brought out steaming and tender. And generations of local families bring their unique talents to the event.

“It’s really a great opportunity for people to eat authentic Hawaiian food,” says Hopkins, who’s seen the luau gain popularity in recent years.

Admission to the luau is just $20, and while hundreds turn up to greet friends and family over Hawaiian food, just as popular is the $20 takeout plate that can be ordered ahead of time and picked up July 9.

If you can, make the drive and plan to attend the luau this weekend. You’ll not just find good food, but you’ll be taking part in a food event that maintains tradition and a way of life. The history of St. John’s By-the-Sea reads like a novel, and is full of stories of passionate community members and committed leaders. The luau that’s continued for 80 years is a testament to sustainability.

And for those more comfortable with their wine pairings alongside steak instead of poi and freshly caught crab? There’s a second food fundraiser scheduled for later in the year.

“We affectionately call is the ‘haole luau,’” says Hopkins. “It’s basically a wine tasting that’s hosted in a similar fashion with more contemporary dishes that pair well with wine. It’s fun event and gives us another opportunity to share food and wine with friends and family.”

And then, after the work has been done for another year, funds raised and the party tables put away, it’s back to spreading the word about wine for Hopkins, who is reluctant to take any praise for continuing the work started generations ago by his family.

“Basically I’m just determined to do all I can to keep the church alive,” he says. “It nourishes the communities of Kahalu’u and Kaneohe.”

Tickets for the July 9 luau can be purchased by calling 261 9941.

Happy eating!

St. John’s By-the-Sea 47-074 Lihikai Drive Kahalu’u


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