The streets of Waikīkī are eerily quiet.
They have been since mid-March when the pandemic closed all restaurants in Hawaiʻi for dine-in.
Although dining rooms have reopened – for parties of five and under – the tourist destination of Waikīkī continues to suffer. Locals are just not coming out.
Since hotels and resorts are closed most of the restaurants inside of them have also shuttered – at least temporarily. But not Hiking Hawaii Cafe, located inside the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. If you get close enough, you can still hear the buzz of the blenders and find beachgoers walking out with freshly whipped, ice-cold acai bowls.
Hiking Hawaii Cafe started out as a hiking company 10 years ago. Owner Crystal Evans, an avid hiker, wanted to start her own business sharing her passion.
She launched her new venture out of a Waikīkī office building. After a few months she knocked open a wall, found the water line and constructed a make-shift kitchen.
With only a three compartment sink, TurboChef Oven and blender Evans prepared quinoa wraps, sandwiches, smoothies, and acai bowls to fuel her hungry hikers.
The business was a success and the tiny cafe was gaining popularity. But, after a few years dealing with a crooked landlord, Evans had enough. She took her hiking company online and closed the cafe.
While rock climbing and repelling in Utah one day, owners of the DoubleTree Hotel called. Their sales people had been regulars at the cafe, being that it was located just down the street, and had raved about it so much, that they had come down last time they were in town. They wanted to tell her that they loved the cafe’s eco-friendly hiking image and wanted to bring her concept to the DoubleTree.
Evans hesitantly flew back to meet with them. The restaurant space they were offering had once housed Royʻs Restaurant, but had sat empty the past 10 years. It would need major renovations, which would be a huge investment in time and money on Evans’ part. Humbly, she declined.
But the owners would not take no for an answer. “No, you don’t understand. We want you in the hotel. Make us an offer,” Evans recalled them saying.
Evans obliged and as expected the build-out, which took one and a half years to complete due to Hawaiʻi’s slow permitting process, was a complete nightmare. Regardless, Hiking Hawaii Cafe opened in 2018 and was busy from day one.
Evans continued to book and lead the hiking tours while her staff ran the cafe. The menu expanded substantially now that they had a proper commercial kitchen.
Now, instead of one acai bowl there are seven types of bowls – six made with frozen fruit and one with hot oatmeal.
What makes the acai bowls so special is the fact that they are made using 100% acai.
“A lot of people will add ice to their bowls,” Evans explained. “Of course it’s more cost effective. Or, they use that acai that’s out now that you just scoop. It’s like a sorbet.”
Although more expensive and time consuming to prepare, due to the frozen acai bars being difficult to blend, Evans sticks to the real stuff using only fruit and never adding sugar or synthetic flavorings.
“I decided years ago that I was not going to hurt our quality no matter what,” she said.
Everything in the cafe is made from scratch and cooked to order with an emphasis on health.
The thick, luxurious bowls are the star of the show. The chocolate lover’s Mauna Loa Bowl combines acai with almond butter, kale, spinach, mango, banana, cocoa and a plant-based, organic protein powder to create the feel of chocolate ice cream. It is finished “sundae style” with a dollop of creamy coconut chia pudding, sliced banana, crunchy dark chocolate chips and tart berries.
The pitaya bowl blends local red dragon fruit, banana and pineapple into a bright magenta tropical treat. Neon green slices of kiwi are shingled over the top and adorned with granola that has been toasted with grade A maple syrup, coconut oil and honey.
If you are looking for your vegan Buddha-style bowl, the Turmeric Golden Bowl scratches that itch with its bright yellow puree of mango, turmeric, coconut milk, banana and protein powder topped with almonds, coconut, sliced fruit and granola.
Other bowls include a hot bowl of chia seed oatmeal infused with cinnamon cream, a vegan green bowl and two, more traditional-style, acai bowls.
Evans supports local vendors as well. She buys produce, such as kale, salad greens and bananas from Kahumana Organic Farms and hydroponic lettuces from Mari’s Gardens and beverages, such as Sky Kombucha and Hawaiian Paradise Coffee.
Hiking tours are on hold indefinitely due to COVID-19. Evans who now lives in Oregan said she may partner with another hiking tour company in the future.
“It’s been tough,” she said. “I’ll be honest. Summer is our busy time. We normally kill it in the summer and I’m able to save quite a bit of money to get through the slower months. “
Evans said the only reason she has lasted this long is because of the loans she took out with the Small Business Association and Paycheck Protection Program.
“It’s enough to pay the rent, pay the labor. I can’t pay myself any longer, so that’s why I’m here [in Oregon] working,” she said. “But I just ran out in July, so I’m completely done right now. So August is tough.”
Amidst the shutterings and proverbial tumbleweeds, Hiking Hawaii Cafe continues to hang on.
Locals who live nearby are encouraged to walk over for a healthy meal or energizing drink. The hotel also offers free parking, a rarity in this area.
You can visit Hiking Hawaii Cafe Monday through Thursday 7:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. and Friday through Sunday 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. Takeout can be ordered through Ubereats, Bite Squad, Doordash and Grubhub. Or, you can simply give them a call and pick up.
Hiking Hawaii Cafe, 1956 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, Hawaii 96815, (808) 445-1717