12 • 18 • 2019

Ocean Friendly Restaurant Spotlight: Koko Head Cafe in Hawaii

Surfrider Hawaii’s Stuart Coleman caught up with Justin Young, the manager of Koko Head Café. Owned by celebrity chef Lee Anne Wong, this Platinum Level Ocean Friendly Restaurant was an early supporter of the program and is actively involved in helping to create change in their community.


Q:  What are the “secret ingredients” that make Koko Head Cafe and Chef Lee Anne's cuisine so unique and popular? 

A: Chef Lee Anne starts with aloha first and foremost, sourcing local first, and organic whenever possible, which results in fresh, seasonal flavors that never go out of style. She also brings a lifetime experiences from traveling the globe to our menu. Her love of rich French cuisine is tempered by the Japanese aesthetic of balance, resulting in her own unique culinary twist on all of our breakfast and brunch items. Chef Lee Anne innately understands Pacific rim cuisine, allowing her to blend Korean, Chinese, and American dishes with traditional Hawaiian ingredients and cuisine. 

Q:  Why did you decide to become an Ocean Friendly Restaurant and how hard was it to achieve Platinum Status?

A: Chef Lee Anne has gone on the record as stating “That Mars is just not an option”, meaning that if we mess up this planet, we will have no where else to go. It also made business sense to us, in the sense that we pride ourselves on serving fresh local seafood, so to add plastic to the oceanic food chain would inevitably lead to feeding our guests more plastic. Achieving Platinum Status was not very hard for us, since we were mostly there already. Straws were the last single use plastic for us to phase out, and even then, we only ever gave them out on request. This policy of 'straws only on request' was always our policy to help mitigate costs, and we have continued this policy even without single use plastic in order to reduce even biodegradable waste. 

Q: How has being an OFR affected the way you do business? What benefits does it bring? 

A: Many of our guests have expressed admiration for our dedication to the environment, wondering, 'why would anyone want to trash paradise?' To hear complete strangers agree and applaud our efforts feels great, and their word of mouth helps to promote the business even further. We love seeing hikers, fresh off the trail, marvel at how beautiful our natural environment is and we also love seeing beachgoers with sand still on their ankles glowing from the sun, express their gratitude that they can come to Hawai'i to enjoy our pristine landscape, and know that we are doing our part to keep it that way. 

Q:  Why did you all decide to support Bill 40 to phase out polystyrene and plastic foodware? And how do you feel about its recent passage?

A: We decided to support Bill 40 because it is the right thing to do. We have been trying to mitigate our plastic waste for years, without government regulation, because we believe it to be right. I don't know if I even really understand the question, because I can't understand the alternative, we scrimp pennies at the cost of our environment? That's not even an option for us. We feel absolutely thrilled that Bill 40 has passed, and that Hawai'i stands poised again to take the initiative to show the nation in how to move forward and shake up the status quo, because the attitude of “that's how it's always been done” is what has gotten us into the current climate crisis. I empathize with business owners who are only worried about their bottom line, but I am confident that your guests would much rather pay a few cents more than choke on plastic waste, or find it in their seafood. We are looking forward to the implementation of this bill as it falls on all of us as consumers to make a change, as much as it falls on the individual and businesses to take responsibility for our choices in our consumption.