Going To Town With Fresh Island Produce
Wednesday - April 21, 2010
I’m always happy to find an opportunity to write about town restaurant in Kaimuki and to take time to chat with the chef/owners Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero.
The two celebrated their fifth anniversary Sunday with a party in their parking lot and a whole bunch of family, friends and customers coming together to eat, drink and enjoy a success that says almost as much about its customers as it does about the food.
Five years may not seem that long ago, but town was something of a novelty when it opened: an elegantly casual restaurant where local produce ruled the menu, and where the menu changed each day.
“When we started, we knew we were pretty much going out on a limb,” says Caldiero, “but the best part of the success of the restaurant has been that our customers have allowed us to work with the menu and within the confines of local farmers and fishermen.”
Many restaurants and supermarkets use the excuse that buying from small local farms doesn’t work because customers need consistency in product delivery. Town just cooks what’s seasonal, and that makes people more than happy.
“At first we did bring some things in from the Mainland,” says Kenney, “because we wanted to experiment with unusual vegetables and products, but now we have no need to do that because there’s such an abundance of great local food.”
When Kenney and Caldiero began making trips to the KCC Farmers’ Market five years ago, there were two rows of vendors and 100 or so customers. Today there are dozens of vendors, thousands of customers and a proliferation of similar farmers markets popping up all over the Islands.
“Partly our success has been due to timing and a shift in the environment,” says Kenney modestly. “People were obviously ready for a restaurant like town.”
One of the most remarkable things that town has brought to Kaimuki is not just locally inspired cuisine, but a sense of community. There’s something tremendously welcoming about a restaurant that opens early in the morning to encourage breakfast business meetings, serves a lunch of interesting, locally grown food, then welcomes families - with children - to come for dinner.
“We tried something and it worked,” says Kenney. “We got lucky.”
But while the two hoped that their style of cooking would attract a following, they didn’t anticipate becoming quite such a part of customers’ lives.
“A lot of the correspondence we’ve received in the past few weeks has been about that, about the role people feel we play in the community here,” says Kenney.
But it’s been easy to embrace these two sincere people, whose vision was to create a place where partnerships between farmers and fishermen and customers and chefs could be fostered.
“Part of what we were about from the beginning was fair rates for staff, and fair wages for farmers,” says Kenney. “We don’t have huge portions and cheap prices,” says Kenney, “but it’s gratifying to know that our customers recognize our value.”
And while it’s entirely possible to write a review of town (and sister restaurant Downtown at HSAM) without mentioning the food, here are a couple of do-not-miss dishes to order when you go: Caldiero’s handmade gnocchi or any of his wonderful pasta, Kenney’s rustic roast chicken with torn bread and grapes, and the simple - but utterly delicious - house salad that’s been the restaurant’s biggest seller since day one.
With five years behind them and a bright future ahead, I wondered what keeps the guys motivated in an industry famous for its arduous schedule.
“Same thing that made us start the restaurant in the first place,” says Kenney. “Having someone come up and say, ‘That tasted so good!’ That’s the motivation. Always has been and always will be.”
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