It’s Chris Colby’s gig for staying on vacation — permanently.
The former Arizona resident would visit Kona whenever he had the chance and it finally got to where he dreaded sitting at the departure gate. In April of last year, the computer salesman took matters into his own hands.
“This is my life savings,” Colby said with wry humor, standing in a spotless, newly refurbished restaurant dining room behind Lava Java in Alii Sunset Plaza.
“If it doesn’t succeed, I’m on the streets.”
Island Ono Loa Grill opened July 8. The concept sprang from an idea to bring an excellent hot dog to Kailua-Kona — Vienna Beef Chicago dogs with pickle spear, sport peppers, tomato wedges, celery salt and mustard. Then Colby went to the farmers market in Hilo and a light bulb went off.
“You don’t realize the bounty this island has until you go to a farmers market,” he said.
Ono Loa offers a menu with island ingredients: salads with local goat cheese, lettuce from Waimea, tomatoes from Oahu, and a macadamia nut goat cheese burger. Sandwich buns are from the Punaluu Bake Shop. The meat is char-grilled over lava rocks, something Colby insists on for indispensable smoke flavor.
Fresh-cut onion rings are mostly onion. Colby said he can’t stand rings that are mostly batter.
“This is the crispy version; it’s not just a doughnut with some onion in the center,” he said.
Also on offer are the Applewood Smoked Bacon Cheeseburger and the Big Kahuna Spicy Dog. Colby hopes to bring in the crowds with the Ono Loa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, tenderized, breaded and deep-fried.
“People have eaten it and said this sandwich is going to fill the place up,” Colby said. “If we can just get the word out.”
Word has traveled slowly so far. Tucked out of sight from Alii Drive, the restaurant is located at the former U-Top-It. Colby replaced the kitchen floor and ceiling, resurfaced the walls, refurbished the bathroom and replaced the air-conditioning so it blows nice and cold.
Like others who come to the islands to reinvent themselves, Colby set aside a degree in computer information systems and reverted to experience he had in college as an assistant manager of a Jack in the Box. He discovered that no one wants to eat a pineapple burger. That lesson was not expensive but others have been, including his struggle through a lengthy permitting process for the remodel.
In the future Colby intends to offer 100 percent Kona coffee showcasing the region’s different growers.
“I’m hoping for a mix of about 90 percent locals and 10 percent visitors,” he said. “Our prices are pretty aggressive; I want it to be a place where locals can come in.”