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Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

Ono Kine Grindz Brings a Taste of Hawaii to Tosa

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In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino and Portuguese immigrants arrived in Hawaii to toil on the islands’ sugar cane and pineapple plantations. When they rested in the fields, the workers shared their lunches—noodles in broth and curries over rice—and communicated by blending their native languages with bits of English to form a prevailing form of Hawaii Creole English, or Pidgin, as it’s commonly referred to. Over generations, these distinct ethnic groups began to share their families, creating America’s most ethnically diverse state. In September, Guy Roeseler, a Wisconsin native who lived in Hawaii for more than a decade, and David Lau, a Hawaii native who made the move to the mainland two years ago, opened Ono Kine Grindz. The charming Hawaiian grocery and deli on North Avenue in Wauwatosa brings to Wisconsin some of the best products the Aloha State has to offer.

The store’s catchy moniker is an example of Hawaii’s common language: “Ono” means “tasty” or “delicious.” “Da Kine” is the keystone of Pidgin—it can mean virtually anything, but it’s often used as a shorthand place holder when it is likely the listener will understand what is meant from the context of the sentence. “Grindz” is another word for good food. And Ono Kine Grindz definitely lives up to its name.

Roeseler is a trained chef who has been working in the food industry since high school. After owning a storefront bistro in Seattle, he moved to Hawaii, where he managed several restaurants. Lau was born in Hawaii, but because both of his parents hailed from China, he was raised in a traditional Chinese household. The business partners’ idea to open a Hawaiian grocery store stateside was influenced by a small store that Lau used to visit before elementary school every morning. Operating for more than 70 years, the store sells sodas, candy, shave ice and musubi, a popular snack in Hawaii consisting of pressed rice topped with Spam, chicken or shrimp and wrapped in seaweed. Buying the store, which sits on property worth about three-quarters-of-a-million dollars, was too cost-prohibitive for Roeseler and Lau, so they relocated to Wisconsin, where the cost of living is more manageable.

While the ancient Hawaiian diet was limited to staples such as taro (a root vegetable), fish and wild boar—even the pineapple, long seen as Hawaii’s signature fruit, was introduced to the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1813 by a Spanish adviser to the king—the new Hawaii diet is a real fusion of cuisines.

“I love to cook,” Roeseler explains. “I brought in [ingredients] that inspire me.”

The Ono Kine Grindz shelves are stocked with wonderful Kona coffees and blends, tea and gourmet sugars. Rice, central to the new Hawaiian diet, is available in various forms and sizes. Hawaiian natural sea salt offers a unique combination of taste and mineral content. Roeseler and Lau import both black and red sea salt harvested from salt farms on the small island of Molokai. There are also many spice packets that can transform your beef, chicken, seafood and vegetable dishes into Hawaiian specialties. The coolers are filled with manapua (steamed buns usually filled with pork), bright red Portuguese sausages (often served for breakfast with rice and eggs), Hawaiian beverages, many flavored with tropical favorites such as passion fruit, guava and mango, and a number of weird but tasty sweets, like little dessert waffles that taste like a Twinkie but are shaped like a taco.

Ono Kine Grindz also sells a number of Hawaiian cookbooks, music (on CD and DVD), photos and board shorts. The store boasts an impressive selection of Aloha shirts for $8.08, priced to reflect the state’s area code.

From the Ono Kine Grindz’s tiny deli, Roeseler serves sandwiches, smoothies and vegetable juices, along with a limited but thoughtful selection of traditional Hawaiian plate lunches, including real Kobe beef with onion over rice and half a smoked chicken with rice, macaroni salad (another Hawaiian must) and carrot, raisin and pineapple coleslaw.

Like the immigrants that brought their culinary culture to Hawaii, Roeseler and Lau have brought their Hawaiian favorites to us. Beer, cheese and manapua, anyone?
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