Mike Winder, 33, was raised in Portland, Ore., a place where the local food movement has taken the restaurant industry by storm.
As a teen, he helped run a smoothie bar. Later as an adult, he had the opportunity to serve as head chef of a restaurant. Both experiences fueled his passion for food, in particular providing healthy, local, affordable, artistic fare.
Today, Winder fuses island-style favorites and Mexican food, creatively merging fresh ingredients with not so conventional flavors at his new restaurant, Loko Wraps, located at Kealakekua Ranch Center in Captain Cook, between ChoiceMART and Ace Hardware.
Opening this restaurant about a month ago was a culinary achievement for Winder, who has been coming to Hawaii Island over the past 17 years, mostly for summer getaways. He has long wanted to open a food business here. After lots of dreaming, he decided to take action and moved to the island. He settled in Captain Cook and gave himself a two-year deadline to produce something, whether it was a food truck, smoothie shack or tiny eatery.
Loko Wraps evolved through ideas with Winder’s friends, J Brown and Roman Merrell. He also noticed there was a need in the South Kona community for a tasty, quick and reasonably priced dining option that also celebrated the island’s bounty and tropical flare.
“What we offer is not overcomplicated slow food that’s done fast and packed with aloha-style flavors,” Winder said.
Loko Wraps offers burritos, tacos, salads, tortas and plates, with a choice of kalua pork, shoyu chicken or tofu and veggies. Prices range from $5 to $8.25. The best sellers are the burritos — more than 1,010 have been sold to date, Winder said.
There are sides, such coconut rice and pineapple coleslaw, along with freshly made dressings and sauces, including a cool avocado creme and a chili sauce. Fish specials, soups and vegan and gluten-free options are available, too.
This restaurant also specializes in smoothies ($5.75), fresh squeezed juices ($4.50 to $7), local fruit lemonades and teas. Among the concoctions are Keen (kale, spinach, celery and apple), Zen (coconut, ginger and apple), Moon Light (mango, star fruit and pineapple) and Rip-Curl (lilikoi, banana, papaya and guava). For 50 cents each, customers can choose to add boosts including spirulina, flax seeds, turmeric, wheat germ, bee pollen and chia seeds.
Winder enjoys fostering relationships with farmers, growers and the community. His goal to get as close as possible to 100 percent locally sourced food. Being mostly organic would only sweeten the pursuit, he added.
Loko Wraps is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. In March, Winder is planning to expand the operation hours and offer breakfast items, including a loco moco wrap. Besides unique breakfast burritos and other morning munchies, the restaurant will offer whipped coffee frappe drinks with coconut oil and cacao, as well as a $2 cup of local coffee.
Currently, Loko Wraps is a cash-only restaurant. But it should soon be accepting credit cards and Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, cards. Recipients with food stamp benefits will be able to use their EBT card to make purchases at Loko Wraps cold counter. Winder hopes to prove to the public that “you don’t have to be wealthy to eat healthy.”
Word-of-mouth has already generated a huge following for Loko Wraps. Repeat customer and Kealakekua resident, Harry Yoshiki said the restaurant is a welcomed addition in the community. About once a week, he comes into Loko Wraps. Yoshiki couldn’t decide what entree he liked best, though he admitted his typical go-to was something with the kalua pork because of “its special smokiness.”
“All of the food here is good, comes in real large servings, and the price is right,” Yoshiki said.
For more information, visit Loko Wraps’ facebook page.