When the space opened up next to his Hawi restaurant Sushi Rock, Peter Pomeranze embraced a big opportunity to do something excitingly small — small plates, that is.
Every evening at his new eatery, Trio, diners get to explore the flavors and ingredients of three small meals, such as a barbecue beef slider, seared spicy poke, lilikoi chicken, veggie curry, or mac n’ cheese. Their choices, artfully placed on wooden platters, come with a small organic green salad. The cost for the not-so-mini meal is $29.
For those needing to satisfy their sweet tooth, a trio of decadent desserts is offered for $9. The selection includes a dark chocolate flourless cake, caramel macadamia nut tart, purple sweet potato cheesecake, pineapple raspberry mochi cake and papaya lime basil sorbet.
Here, there’s seemingly no sense of ownership. Diners often snack, sample and willingly share their pared-down portions of tasty dishes. Pomeranze, 59, said it reminds him a lot of his childhood and eating at a restaurant with loved ones. He would order something he wanted from the menu, but when social conventions demanded, he would readily share it with the entire table and happily sample others’ meals. He described the experience at Trio as “a more civilized way of sharing.”
Besides being shareable, there’s also a fun factor to these small-plates meals, one that derives from diners being able to mix and match to their liking.
Trio is among the restaurants nationwide embracing the small-plates trend. According to Technomic Inc., a research consulting firm focused on food and related products and services, “Starters, small plates and sides are becoming increasingly opportune categories as consumers gravitate toward affordable yet better-for-you options that allow them to experiment with new flavors and enhance their dining experience.”
The feedback about Trio, Pomeranze said, has been overwhelmingly positive. He is thankful for the community’s support in this new endeavor, adding the enthusiasm and encouragement received from residents fueled him, especially when dealing with challenging building and planning issues.
For Pomeranze, a New York native who moved to the Big Island roughly 22 years ago, Trio was a chance to do something creatively different by expressing his big ideas in small bites. “My theory is you need change to help propel and move you forward,” he said.
Trio allowed him to pursue a passion, something he thinks “can happen at any time so long as you are realistic, honest and grounded with your spiritual beliefs.” Having a good sense of place and a business plan are keys, too, he added.
With Trio, Pomeranze also wanted to create a unique, memorable culinary experience and offer another restaurant option in North Kohala, where he said the food scene is hot, thanks to a heaping bowl of fresh ingredients available from area farmers and a new food self-sufficiency paradigm. The community is pursuing its goal of producing 50 percent of the food it consumes by promoting and supporting diversified agriculture.
Prior to owning restaurants, Pomeranze was in catering. He’s thrilled to be able to showcase his other well-loved recipes, some of which are from his family or inspired by his travels. Such creations, he added, wouldn’t have to fit in with the cuisine at Sushi Rock. A favorite of residents, tourists and foodies alike, the 11-year-old Sushi Rock is known for serving traditional and innovative sushi, as well as soups, salads, cooked entrees and homemade desserts.
Pomeranze said his passion for food led him to become a chef. He enjoys amplifying flavors and creating combinations that work, even surprise. What he loves most is feeding people, seeing their reactions and putting smiles on their faces. That’s the reason — not getting rich or famous — Pomeranze said he’s in this industry.
His slogan for Sushi Rock and Trio is “Come taste the love,” a philosophy he hopes is evident in every plate. He strives to create “a warm and welcoming place” where employees are happy and respected — feelings that are reciprocated. Together, he said they create plates with care and pride that are “presented to you with the hope that you can feel, and yes, taste the love that we put into it.”
“Frightening, awesome and wonderful” the trifecta Pomeranze would use to describe how he felt about growing his staff to 26 employees. Several employees either attend or have graduated from Kohala High School. He proudly mentioned Eric Parayno, who started as a dishwasher and is now the manager.
With both restaurants, Pomeranze said he strives to serve as much locally and organically sourced food as possible because he believes in celebrating the island’s bounty and supporting the local economy. At Trio, the menu will change continually to accommodate market finds and what’s in season. Pomeranze is also adamant about always offering at least three gluten-free small plates and three vegetarian small plates. He thinks these diners are often underserved or given meals that seem more like an afterthought than a balanced and enjoyable dish.
While the evenings at Trio are devoted to small plates, the afternoons are for sandwiches, salads, soups and frittatas. The prices range from $6 to $16 for these lunch items. On Sundays, a brunch, complete with savory or sweet muffins and baked French toast, is offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Trio also has a full bar and Pomeranze hopes to have live music some Fridays.
The fact that Sushi Rock has been around for more than a decade makes Pomeranze’s heart sing, particularly when considering the fate of many small businesses, the variability of the economy, and other challenges that exist for Hawaii business entrepreneurship or investment. Not once, he said, has he taken business for granted. His diners at both restaurants are a mix that’s made up of 50 percent visitors and 50 percent residents.
Sushi Rock’s 11th anniversary and Trio’s grand opening were celebrated last week. The restaurants are located side by side in the historic Hawi Hale building on the edge of Hawi town. Both are open from noon to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 8 p.m. daily. Reservations are highly recommended for dinner and Sunday brunch at Trio. For more information, call 889-5900 or visit sushirockrestaurant.net.