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Region & season: Mother, son open restaurant focusing on locally sourced ingredients

January 19, 2014 - 10:37pm

Sweet Potato Kitchen and Take Out in Hawi is proof that good food can be turned out of a converted driveway and the kitchen isn’t the only room that matters in the culinary world.

Located at 55-3406 Akoni Pule Highway, between Chi Chi La Fong store and Attitudes Hair Design, this restaurant is a new hidden gem with an ambitious approach to service, sustainability and food. Its owners are mother and son team Susan and Morgan Alexy. They are determined to keep everything fresh, organic and local to offer the healthiest, best tasting food possible. It’s also a mission that supports the community they love.

Originally, Susan was planning to open up a sweets shop, offering her Coconui Ice Cream and gluten-free baked goods, found regularly at the Hawi farmers market. But after numerous requests and encouragement from residents, she decided to create a restaurant using the best local, sustainable and organic ingredients Kohala has to offer.

Susan decided to embark on this venture with Morgan because of his talent, experience and passion. Morgan has more than a decade of culinary experience from working in kitchens on Oahu and Kauai. He also spent two years permaculture farming in Hawi.

Together, they wanted to create something that offers good, healthy, nongenetically modified food that’s respectfully priced and locally sourced. They wanted to give the farmers of North Kohala a consistent place to sell their products, and give the public, especially residents, a chance to taste those products.

Because the restaurant is committed to using ingredients that are sourced as close to its doors as possible, Susan said the menu is vegetarian and vegan. This focus was welcomed in the community, especially since dining options are limited. Sweet Potato Kitchen and Take Out is filling in the long-standing vegan and vegetarian niche, she added.

Morgan said the region’s isolation means they can’t cheat when creating the locally sourced and seasonally driven menu. Instead, they have to be in tune with the land and the people.

The Alexys take great pride in their relationships with farmers, food artisans and neighbors. They also look forward to cultivating more partnerships.

The Alexys described their food as “simple, flavorful and filling like the kind grandma would make if she were vegan.”

Accommodating a love of fresh, seasonable produce, the menu is the result of what’s currently available and the culinary ingenuity of the restaurant owners who work in a tiny 10- by 10-foot kitchen. If a farmer drops off lots of ginger, for example, the menu will be skewed toward that root. Also, nothing goes to waste. For instance, roasted root vegetables may go from a hearty side or casual main dish to a soup. Approximately 90 percent of the ingredients come from Kohala.

The most popular items include the gluten-free biscuits with mushroom gravy and the beet-steak patty plate with sweet potatoes and wilted greens.

For the Alexys, “the magic of the place” comes from its community support. At times, Susan said she feels like she’s living everybody’s dream. She is honored by the outpouring of commitment by others to see that the restaurant is successful, and because of them, it is thriving.

Some residents have donated kitchen equipment, dining furniture or services. Others have purchased gift cards or tipped generously. A few of the regulars eat exclusively at Sweet Potato Kitchen and Take Out and have reported feeling healthier and more energetic or have lost weight. To all who have come, eaten and helped, the Alexys had only one word to best sum up their gratitude: Mahalo.

Simply put, Sweet Potato Kitchen and Take Out is where local people can come for good food and good conversation. It’s like a second home, Susan said. While their targeted diners are residents, she stressed all are welcome at the restaurant, which has proved to be a hot spot for omnivores, vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free eaters.

Sweet Potato Kitchen and Take Out opened Nov. 5 and a grand opening, with a Hawaiian blessing, was held on the winter solstice. The restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily for breakfast, lunch and take out. Dinner is served from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Catering is also available.

The Alexys plan to start offering Sunday brunches sometime this month. They also hope to have a culinary garden and more outdoor seating in six months. Other plans include renting the space for parties and having live music. The atmosphere they’re trying to create is a mix between an Italian and French bistro, with a relaxed, warm and friendly drive-thru window.

For more information, call 345-7300 or visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.

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