Hawai‘i Food News: This Mōʻiliʻili Restaurant is Giving Away 7,000 Dollars
To celebrate his restaurant’s seventh anniversary, A Place To Eat chef Willu Diaz has hidden seven stickers across O‘ahu. Find them all and you could win $7,000.
Most restaurants celebrating an anniversary of how long they’ve been in business offer discounted food specials, unique menu items or throw a party.
But Willu Diaz isn’t like most restaurant owners. To celebrate the seven-year anniversary of his Mō‘ili‘ili fusion restaurant, A Place To Eat, Diaz decided to give away $7,000 cash to one lucky person. All you have to do is find seven stickers he’s stuck across the island.
“Seven years, seven stickers, $7,000,” Diaz says. “I don’t know, it just sounded poetic.”
An unusual idea? Definitely. Though it seems fitting for Diaz, who always approached cooking and running a restaurant in unusual ways.
When he first opened A Place To Eat at Puck’s Alley in 2012, Diaz’s goal was to combine everything he had learned from years of staging at some of Hawai‘i’s finest restaurants, including Nobu, Alan Wong’s, Chef Mavro, Mariposa, Sansei, Hy’s Steak House, D.K. Steak House, Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas and Chai’s Island Bistro. (“Turns out if you say you’ll work somewhere for free and are willing to help with whatever, people will bring you on,” he says.) Originally from Los Angeles, Diaz moved to Hawai‘i in 2002 to attend UH Mānoa, where he graduated with a degree in psychology. While working at the Hawai‘i State Hospital, Diaz began attending culinary classes at Leeward Community College. He then quit the hospital in order to pursue being a chef full-time.
He eventually rose to executive chef for Ocean House in the Outrigger Reef Hotel before opening A Place To Eat in September 2012. There, Diaz sells reasonably priced lunch and dinner plates, such as pepper-crusted sea scallops served with mushrooms and garlic in an adobo soy sauce, and pūpū-style New York steak topped with a blue cheese herb butter and caramelized Maui sweet onions, both for $12. Or spicy Thai chicken wings in a chili-miso-soy glaze, and pork ribs braised in Champagne vinegar and brown sugar, both for $11. Everything’s served in Styrofoam containers (even if you’re dining in) but don’t let the modest setup deter you from the food: Diaz knows how to cook. His plate-lunch fare is some of the best you’ll find anywhere; the steaks and scallops especially are fine-dining quality, and so is the garlic shrimp sautéed in a basil butter cream sauce over linguine al dente.
Finding the restaurant is a little bit of a scavenger hunt itself, tucked into Puck’s Alley between The Nook Neighborhood Bistro and The Greek Corner. As for the actual sticker hunt, it ends on Sept. 1. Says Diaz, “I started the scavenger hunt in February to give people seven months to find them all, but so far no one has found a single one.”
Interested in joining the hunt? The rules are simple: follow @APlaceTo_Eat on Instagram and watch for weekly clues that Diaz posts, usually on Saturdays, about where stickers might be. Based on past clues, Diaz has indicated that stickers are stuck all around O‘ahu, they cannot be seen from the road (you have to walk to find them), and they’re located in areas that are open to the public. None of them are buried or hidden underneath something else or hiding. If you find a sticker, post a picture of yourself on Instagram with the sticker, mark the location on your post and tag the restaurant. Do this before anyone else and you win!
“What I wanted to happen was for this to become a communal thing where people worked together to discuss clues and trade info,” says Diaz. “Unfortunately, probably because of the cash prize involved, people are a little more hesitant. They all want to find them all. Meanwhile, no one’s found a single one.”
To be fair, this is not an easy scavenger hunt. While some clues are specific (one Instagram post is tagged at Ka‘ahele Neighborhood Park in ‘Aiea), others are broad; one post is just a picture that spans the entirety of Mānoa and Pālolo valleys, taken from a plane. Diaz says that previous clues should help.
Another pro tip: Clues are embedded in the text of a post as well as the images. So when Diaz writes that he “decided not to be so cryptic and just give you a location of a sticker” as a caption to one of his posts, he might literally be referring to a crypt. (Or not? Hard to tell.)
“This is a scavenger hunt, not a scavenger race. My goal wasn’t to post these pictures and then everybody just figures it out and galivants there after Sunday brunch,” Diaz says. “In the 18-plus years I’ve been here, I’ve been all around this island. I put these stickers at places I used to eat at. Maybe they’re beaches, hiking trails, anywhere that’s open to the public.”
What happens on Sept. 1 if no one’s found the stickers? Diaz shrugs. “Who’s to say I don’t run it again next year with an $8,000 prize?”
A Place To Eat, 1035 University Ave., Suite 104, (808) 941-4554, aplacetoeathi.com