Tucked into a building in the Cameron Center, one nonprofit has been quietly but powerfully feeding Maui’s community with healthy and good-tasting food for nearly two decades. On weekdays during the lunch hours from 11am to 2pm, Hui No Ke Ola Pono’s Simply Healthy Cafe serves up nourishing meals with a Hawaiian twist at affordable prices.
Simply Healthy Cafe isn’t easy to find, unless you’re familiar with the Cameron Center, which is located between the police station and hospital in Wailuku. It’s not your typical storefront-restaurant, but rather an unassuming, unfussy cafeteria-style cafe behind a pair of double glass doors off the courtyard. It’s mostly frequented by professionals on their lunch break and local people, with few tourists to be found.
The food is fresh and comes in filling portions. The menu, which is posted on their website on a monthly calendar, serves a set lunch offering every day. Each weekday, they offer a different lunch plate and vegetarian plate, and also have sandwiches, soups, salads and a desert.
The plates are the way to go. Each plate can be ordered a la carte or with a green salad and a choice of either brown rice, ‘uala (sweet potato) or kalo. There’s fresh poi every Friday.
Lunch options are a healthy twist on local dishes, like pork adobo, shoyu chicken and chicken katsu curry, with vegetarian options like veggie lasagna and veggie chili. Their special meals, served on Fridays, feature options like poke bowls with pohole salad and poi. What’s more, it’s difficult to choose a side dish. The steamed kalo is delicious, and not easy to find in Maui restaurants, as is the Okinawan sweet potato, which is cooked until a bright, pretty purple. They also have sandwiches–turkey, tuna or veggie–that come on wheat or French bread, and soups like Portuguese Bean and chicken bok-choy.
The dining space itself is serviceable, and if you want to eat there, the best place to sit is outside on a single picnic table under a tree, for which there is rarely any competition. Food can also be ordered to go or delivered (if orders are over $25 and placed before 10:30am) in Wailuku and Kahului.
One of the common laments about healthy food is that it’s so expensive, but Simply Healthy is the local person’s way to eat a good meal. The cafe is one of the programs offered by Hui No Ke Ola Pono, a community-based health center. In addition to the cafe, the Hui also offers programs for nutrition and health management, among other things.
The nonprofit’s vision focuses on physical, mental and emotional health, building the health education and capacity of individuals to “re-establish a once cultural norm where every ohana recognized a special family member, one who possessed special knowledge of and interest in providing care to other members of the family.”
On their website, the organization states their mission is to “improve the health status of Native Hawaiians by empowering the present and future generations to be their own health advocates.” One of the effects of colonization on indigenous people is the decimation of the host culture, and food is a large part of culture. The Native Hawaiian diet was a healthy one, like many traditional diets.
While one of the wonderful things about Hawaii is its mesh of cultures, this melting pot is often full of greasy, processed and Westernized food that now passes for “local” food. By putting a healthy flair on local favorites, Simply Healthy Cafe creates healthy options for the Maui Community. Hui No Ke Ola Pono emphases traditionally Hawaiian values, beliefs and practices, and though their focus is on Native Hawaiian population of Maui, “Hui No ke Ola Pono does not turn anyone away.”
SIMPLY HEALTHY CAFE
95 Mahalani St., Wailuku
Photos: Sean M. Hower