Farm To Fork In Waikiki

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 30, 2009
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General manager Kelly Sanders has redefined Sheraton Waikiki

How do you get Calvin Say, Mufi Hannemann, Colleen Hanabusa and a host of other House and Senate members to spend a few hours together in happy conversation? You invite them to a sustainable lunch in a gorgeous restaurant.

That’s what the Hawaii Farm Bureau did a couple of weeks ago to introduce the farm-to-fork policy at Sheraton Waikiki. As it became obvious that the food at newly opened Kai Market was not your standard buffet fare, the 200 or so invited guests settled in for a lingering lunch where, instead of furlough Fridays, the conversation was all about farms and foraged foods.

It was something of coup for the Farm Bureau and a coming out for the hotel, which after a multimil-lion-dollar renovation has transformed itself into a bastion of local food and luscious style.

“What Sheraton Waikiki has done in using local produce in all of their restaurants is incredible,” says Farm Bureau president Dean Okimoto.

“They have raised the bar for other restaurants and hotels to commit to putting local produce on the menu. This is a great thing for local farmers and for the local economy.”

But Sheraton Waikiki hasn’t just transformed its restaurants, it has redefined itself. No longer a slightly shabby rabbit warren of restaurants, Sheraton has emerged from its makeover with some of the best restaurants in the city. With Kai Market, Twist, Rum Fire and The Edge, Sheraton has become a serious contender for top destination in Waikiki.

General manager Kelly Sanders is the man responsible for redefining the hotel.

“Part of the problem with the old Sheraton,” he says, “is that it had no soul.

There was nothing that really stood out. As we started talking about changing the dynamics of the hotel we knew it was more about repositioning than just a renovation.”

And while Sanders recognized that knocking down walls and introducing a more organic look would help establish a new identity, he believed food would make the most impact.

“We felt that if any one thing could change the image, it would be the food,” he says.

You’ll find locally grown produce everywhere at the Sheraton, and with restaurants like Kai Market - where the dining room seats more than 400 - it’s an extraordinary economic opportunity for local farmers. Okimoto expects the food budget for Sheraton to top $1 million next year.

“What they are doing for the economy and for the future of farming is amazing,” he says.

If you’re the kind of person who has trouble imagining your couch in a different position or a new color of paint on your walls, then you’ll be stunned by the extent of Sanders’ work and his vision to make the Sheraton competitive in the world market.

“There was a lot of passion and a lot of hard work that went in to this,” he says, “and now the food at Sheraton complements the spectacular views of Waikiki.”

At Kai Market and throughout the hotel, local-produce is served from breakfast through dinner with menus that show an appreciation of sustainability and how crucial it is to our survival.

As this gloomy year comes to an end, Sheraton’s commitment to local produce deserves high praise. As I left the Farm Bureau lunch and watched politicians lingering over the Niihau seafood chowder, Kona lobster and Portuguese sweet bread pudding, I felt the kind of optimism that comes when people work toward a common goal - no better environment for politicians headed into a new year.

With new direction, enthusiastic and inspired leadership, and a strong economic policy, Sheraton Waikiki might just be the model for 2010.

Happy New Year!

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