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Yes, ChefZone is Open to the Public

This wholesale club features more than 6,000 food products, supplies and gadgets for restaurants owners and home cooks.


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Inside ChefZone, a wholesale club that caters to small restaurants but is open to the public. At least for now.
Photos: Catherine TOth Fox

 

Up until a month ago, I had no idea anyone—including me—could shop at ChefZone, a cash-and-carry wholesale club launched last year by Y. Hata & Co. Ltd.

 

I had assumed (wrongly) that only restaurant owners, chefs, caterers or nonprofit organizations could shop at this 45,000-square-foot facility located on Ualena Street off Lagoon Drive. For now, anyway, anyone can, and membership is free.

 

The idea for ChefZone started four years ago, but the actual warehouse opened last year. The goal was to help smaller restaurants and entrepreneurs who didn’t want to deal with the hassles of shopping at Costco, need smaller quantities of products or supplies, or want help with their business.

 

But even someone like me, a home-cook hack and food writer, can browse the spacious aisles, picking up such specialty items as silicone forms to make perfect nigiri sushi, five-gallon buckets of Aloha Shoyu, frozen purées of liliko‘i and blood orange, and 50-pound bags of red-velvet cake mixes that can make about 100 sheet cakes.

 

But there are much more practical food items here, too, including a wide selection of fresh produce—peppers, romaine lettuce, eggplant, red onions—locally baked breads, eggs, butter, some gourmet cheese and a wide selection of meats ranging from duck breast to salumi to grass-fed Paniolo Cattle Co. beef that’s raised and finished entirely on Hawai‘i Island.

 

Soon, maybe by May, ChefZone will start selling fresh ‘ahi, salmon and other whole fish.

 

Here, you can find restaurant-quality, shelf-stable natural flavorings that can be used for gelato, ice cream or cocktails.

 

In the Chill Zone, where temperatures can dip below zero degrees Fahrenheit, you can find various cuts of meat, soup stocks, cheeses and fresh produce, much of it locally grown.

 

ChefZone is also stocked with various supplies and equipment for any restaurant, catering business or kitchen, from roasting pans to chef-quality knives.

 

It also sells supplies, equipment and utensils for restaurants, including spices, paper goods, knives, roasting pans, mixing bowls, whisks, insulated food pan carriers and chafing dishes.

 

“We’re really a one-stop shop for independent restaurants,” says chef Matthew Small, ChefZone’s executive chef who runs workshops here and offers advice to customers.

 

Executive chef Matthew Small is available to help customers with questions or advice. This is one of two kitchens where he tests products and conducts workshops.

 

Restaurant owners, chefs and other food-service managers are able to get help here, too. The facility’s Entrée-preneurship Center offers free business support on topics such as developing menus, pricing out food and labor costs, revamping inventory and creating marketing strategies. There’s also a demo kitchen where chefs and cooks have come in to work on dishes. Recently, Small taught the owners of a coffee shop in Kailua how to bake bread from scratch using products at ChefZone. He’s also helped another restaurant owner create desserts for his new catering business.

 

Small is also available to help non-restaurateur customers (like me) with products and supplies. He walked me through the aisles, pointing out various products and telling me what I can do with them. The all-natural Les vergers Boiron frozen fruit purées can be used to make dessert sauces or to flavor martinis. “The dark-red plum tastes like red wine,” Small says. And annatto seeds can be used to flavor chicken. “Crush them up, add to olive oil, fresh garlic, red onion and vinegar, marinate the chicken overnight, then grill,” he says. “It’s really good.”

 

I wound up leaving ChefZone with a pack of taro rolls, Sriracha ketchup and two bottles of Tabasco soy sauce, with plans to return for more. The woman behind me at the register had a bag of Okinawan sweet potatoes, imitation crab and two bags of pudding mixes. Neither of us in the restaurant business, we laughed at our strange combination of goods.

 

But hey, it’s ChefZone. There are no creative faux pas here.

 

ChefZone, 2888 Ualena St., 852-6700, chefzone.com

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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