DINING ON THE EDGE Dining hotspots around the Islands for every taste
Hapa Grill’s signature ‘Ahi Tower is stacked with delectable layers of rice, crab meat, guacamole, and ‘ahi poke, topped by a crisp won ton chip, and finished with a balsamic reduction and tropical fruit salsa.
TRADITION MEETS TODAY Shannon Tangonan Putnam of Hapa Grill By :: Jo Archibald | Photos By :: Dave Miyamoto
The Pan-fried Macadamia Nut Mahimahi is topped with toasted mac nuts and a tropical fruit salsa, and served with steamed white rice and sauteed garlic vegetables.
t was late Tuesday evening in August when Hapa Grill owner Shannon Tangonan Putnam sat down to talk with me in her Kapolei restaurant. The dinner crowd had begun to ebb, while in the special event room a meeting was busily underway. Just the Monday night prior Shannon had launched Hapa Grill’s first Family Night, family-style dining featuring large platters of their most popular entrées. The response had been tremendous. Monday nights are usually achingly slow for restaurants, but Hapa Grill was filled to capacity with hungry families who came in for steaming platters of Crispy Pork Chops “Kawali” Style, Teriyaki Beef and Crispy Oyster Chicken, as well as generous portions of fried rice,
fried noodles and salads. In addition to Hapa Grill staples, Shannon introduced a new dish, Salt and Pepper Shrimp, to rave reviews. Although Hapa Grill is only five years old, its story begins nearly three decades ago with Shannon’s parents, Ellen and Richard Tangonan. Shannon grew up in the family business, the Sassy Kassy lunch wagon in Campbell Industrial Park, spending weekends and summers scooping rice and mac salad, making sandwiches and cashiering. After college, she followed her own career path to the Mainland, covering the crime beat for newspapers in Washington D.C., Louisville, Kentucky and San Diego. But as those who have grown up in Hawai‘i well know, the Islands have a way of calling you back.
68 | thepacificEDGE.com
9/18/10 12:57:14 AM
dining on the edge
Owner Shannon Tangonan Putnam has taken family experiences and updated them with a new vision and new creations at Hapa Grill in Kapolei.
Perhaps it was serendipity when Ellen phoned to say that she and Richard were ready to retire their lunch wagon business. By then Shannon had grown weary of reporting and was looking for a change of pace. Taking what she refers to as “a giant leap of faith,” she returned to Hawai‘i, and with
the help of her parents opened Hapa Grill at The Marketplace in Kapolei. Although the name, Hapa Grill, is a nod to Shannon’s Japanese-Filipino heritage, the Hawaiian word “hapa,” or “part,” reflects the restaurant’s culinary diversity. For the plate lunch crowd, Sassy Kassy’s traditional teri beef, chicken and salmon
(with sauce made weekly by Richard) are mainstays on the menu, complemented by contemporary offerings such as the Turkey Pesto Melt, Macadamia Nut Mahimahi, and Hapa Grill’s signature ‘Ahi Tower, an artistically layered appetizer of rice, guacamole, crabmeat and ‘ahi poke, topped with a crispy wonton and drizzled with a balsamic reduction sauce. Shannon considers the menu a work in progress—a collaboration between herself, her parents, her staff and her customers. “It’s especially rewarding to try new dishes and see our customers’ reactions,” she explains. “They’ll say, ‘You gotta put this on the menu!’ and we listen.” One thing to remember when dining at Hapa Grill: leave room for dessert. Mom’s Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae features Ellen’s decadent homemade macadamia nut chocolate brownies, and the Fried Wrapped Cheesecake will have you coming back for more. If you’re looking for a party location, Hapa Grill has one of the few private dining rooms in the area and offers a special buffet for parties of twenty-five or more. Shannon is in the process of applying for a liquor license, but until she receives one, patrons may bring their own beer and wine. A graduate of Campbell High School and a UH scholarship recipient, Shannon is always eager to give back to the community. 2010 marked Hapa Grill’s sixth year as a participant in the Taste of Kapolei, an annual fundraiser for the Kapolei Rotary Club. This year, they offered Teri Beef Sliders with Basil Aioli and mini ‘Ahi Towers. Shannon also supports local schools and fundraising efforts with gift certificates whenever she can. Reminiscing about her parents’ lunch wagon, Shannon says, “Now more than ever, I appreciate the rapport my father had with his customers and their appreciation for his food. … When I see my parents’ customers who were with me from day one, that’s the ultimate reward.”