Supporting local businesses and restaurants is very important, especially during these difficult times of a global pandemic that we least expected to happen. It has been almost one year since the Coronavirus traveled its way to America and wreaked havoc on our daily lives. So once again, here’s another awesome food truck highlight! I did a virtual interview with the owner of Kalei’s Lunch Box, a food truck located across from costco, which serves up a truly amazing local style plate lunch that is always packed with the essential island grinds.
Q: What is some background information about you for the readers and customers to get to know you?
A: My name is Aaron Kalei Heath. I’m currently living in Hawaii but originally raised in Kula. I was LahainaLuna Border, Freshman, Kailua High Oahu Sophomore, Graduated Maui High, Graduate of MCC Culinary Program. My interests and hobbies are fishing, going to vegas, researching cooking techniques, and watching cooking shows. There are lots of popular menu items but the Furikake Mochiko Chicken, Mahimahi Ala Kalei, Hamburger Steak, Chop Steak are the top four sellers. Beef Stew is the most requested Special.
Q: How has your business enriched the community during the pandemic?
A: I’ve been helping the community and the public during the global pandemic by starting a program of “Cheap Eats” back in August 2019. It was a mini plate to say mahalo for our loyal customers only on Wednesdays. When the pandemic hit we expanded it to Mon-Wed-Fri and eventually Sundays. Our community can have a hot fresh cooked meal for $5. Families can feed a family of 4 for $20. Then we started doing specials of $6 and $8 on the “off” cheap eat days. Still affordable. We began our “Feed the Hungry Free Plate Lunch” program in April of 2020, we did one every month, except for August when my wife’s Mother passed away from COVID. She was 97 years old. We miss her everyday. We partnered with some close friends who also donated funds and labor to hand out the free plates. We started with giving out 425, then 500, and 650, and over 700 plates in November. We even went to Lahaina to feed our Community there. Kalei’s inception was in Lahaina. My wife’s Ohana resides in Lahaina. She lived and worked there so the ties to Lahaina is very strong as well as every community in Maui. This is our Lahui. Everyone counts. In September, we fed the Maui Memorial Medical Center staff as a thank you for taking care of our Community and our Mom..that was 425 meals and brownies. We also participated and donated in many first responder lunches with other partners. We are participants in two Kupuna Meal programs since April and currently. We offer to our First Responders on a daily basis BEFORE the pandemic a discounted meal as long as they are on duty. This has always been a way we felt we could pay back our Police and FIre and will continue to do so. We are a local grown, Kanaka Maoli Ohana owned and run business. First and foremost we stand for Aloha.. It is not just a word but it is the essence of how our culture lives and thrives and how we employ staff.. Aloha everyday and in every way. When we say we are in this together, Kalei’s means it!
Q: What is the community response to the Cheap Eats Wednesdays? Have there been any setbacks with this idea of food inventory or anything else?
A: The community response to the Cheap Eats Wednesdays is Awesome. The setbacks we experienced is We have experienced shortages of some proteins, .i.e., chicken…I literally shopped every store when things were tight on inventory and bought what I could to do “Cheap Eats”. Cheap Eats is not a “money maker” but it is the fact that we can help those who need it.
Q: What is the planning process that goes into this?
A: The planning process that goes into this is I plan a week ahead of the inventory of menu items being served. Everything is prepped and marinated the night before to ensure freshness and quality. All food is cooked fresh the next day. NO ifs ands or buts. FRESH. Every marinade, gravy, sauce is housemade, nothing store bought.
Q: How did you figure out the design of the food truck and choose the name of the food truck?
A: I figured out the design of the food truck and chose the name of the food truck. I thought of the name using my Hawaiian name but looked at our food truck and it just came to “Lunch Box”..it is from our local culture of plate lunch..LUNCH BOX. That is where we came up with the byline for social media marketing..what’s in your lunch box? The design is originally from my logo of my restaurant in Kula…called Cafe 808…it has the Kahuna man holding a bowl, with a flame on the bottom and his hands should be a form of a pineapple in the middle of the bowl and his hands and head. We wanted to carry on the legacy of Cafe 808 to our new venture. Therefore the Big Kahuna logo and design and another byline of “Da Big Kahuna of Island Grinds”
Q: Location. You are across from Costco, do you go to other locations across the island or do you just stay at Costco with the other food trucks?
A: We have gone to other locations for special events with our Original food truck which was an actual truck. We would do the Harvest Festival, Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus Ho’olaulea, and Maui Arts Cultural Center events. In 2019, we purchased a newer, larger food trailer across Costco. This trailer is parked only at this location. In December we sold our Original truck and are currently getting ready to open our restaurant in the Pukalani Terrace Shopping Center some time in Spring 2021.
Q: What has been your hardest struggle?
A: The hardest struggle for me is After Cafe 808 closed in December 2017. It took 4 years to come back and start all over again. We decided to do a food truck. Whie overhead cost is more affordable than a “brick & mortar” restaurant, owning and running a food truck is a completely different animal. IT is VERY HARD WORK to work a food truck. In fact it is double the work, storage is a beast. But we work for ourselves and we get to help our community, and our culture and to work towards sustaining both of their futures. This pandemic has instilled in us what I believe and strive for in all my restaurants, is we serve and support our local community. Tourists will come and go but our Local Community is here. This is who has kept Kalei’s open during this pandemic. This is not to say we don’t service tourists. We do and appreciate them. We treat them as well as everyone with only Aloha, we have many return visitors from all over the world..but it is our local community who we malama because they will take care of us and they have!
Q: Prior to Kalei Lunchbox, have you had prior experience or worked in the restaurant industry?
A: Prior to Kalei Lunchbox, I have had experience and worked in the restaurant industry including over 30 years of Experience with the Marriott Hotel, Kaanapali, Kula Lodge. Owning my first restaurant Upcountry Cafe and then Cafe 808.
Q: If you could describe your food truck in three words, what would you say?
A: If I could describe my food truck in three words, I would say Quality, Fresh, and Affordable.
This is a popular plate lunch style food truck located across from Costco serving up Mochiko Chicken, Beef Stew, Hamburger Steak, and much more! This food truck also serves Breakfast including breakfast sandwiches with bacon and New York steak on brioche buns and if you love tater tots you can get it with your sandwich. The main lesson I learned from this is that quality and quantity is a top food truck standard since food needs to be prepared with fresh ingredients, look and presented neatly and each part of the plate lunch needs to be operationalized. Let’s inspire others in the culinary world to create food trucks with homemade meals in smaller packages with the aloha spirit to feed the locals and tourists in the community. Kalei Lunchbox has a growing social media presence on Instagram and providing new dishes as well as original dishes makes a food truck stay in business as well as the customer service. Let’s continue to support the Kalei Food truck and help those who see Kalei Food truck as a must go to bring in new patrons.