Meet the Power Couple Behind 3 Popular Honolulu Gastropubs
The owners behind Real, Brew’d and Palate, Lisa Kim and Troy Terorotua, have spent the past five years perfecting their formula.
Lisa Kim and Troy Terorotua are partners in life, and in business.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
In the spate of new restaurant openings in Chinatown this year, on a quiet stretch of Bethel Street, Palate Craft & Eatery opened in July with little fanfare. It took over the old Soul de Cuba space, transforming the palette of rich Caribbean hues into a gastropub dominated by a nickel-studded bar on one side and fabric-upholstered booths on the other. Geographically in the middle of of JJ Dolan’s pizza-and-beer pub, craft beer-centric Bar 35 and Square Barrels, Tchin Tchin! wine bar and the luxe cocktails of Bar Leather Apron, Palate isn’t just one of the latest players to meet the city’s growing thirst for spirits. Its opening created Honolulu’s first gastropub chain, the beginnings of which helped stoke that thirst.
SEE ALSO: First Look: Palate Craft & Eatery
First there was Real, then there was Brew’d, then came Palate—all owned by Troy Terorotua and Lisa Kim; at Palate they have a partner in restaurateur Pat Kashani. Nearly as notable as the pace of the openings (Real opened in 2012, Brew’d in 2014) is how far under the radar chef and craft beer fanatic Terorotua flies.
From left: a stout beer, a sweet-tart Pimm’s Cup gin cocktail on draft, the signature Belle with mezcal and muddled red bell pepper, an IPA.
“Troy took a risk to open up Real. No one had done it here before. He said, ‘We’re going to serve 30 draft lines of rare, expensive, hard-to-find craft beer, and we’re going to pair them with high-end food,’” says Tim Golden, creator of the Beer in Hawai‘i blog and co-owner of Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room, which opened this summer. “We all knew there was a scene of people who wanted more craft beer choices, but would it expand? It did. Without him taking the risk, it would not have grown nearly as fast as it did.”
Beet greens salad—earthy comfort with the crunch of pecans and the rich funk of blue cheese.
Terorotua’s arrival in Honolulu was as low key as Palate’s. He’s a South Floridian, the son of a Tahitian-born drummer. His parents met at the Polynesian-themed, 500-seat restaurant they both worked at in Fort Lauderdale. By the time he was 19, Terorotua was running the kitchen. At 22, he was apprenticing on U.S. teams competing in international haute-cuisine contests. Then, he met Sam Choy at a benefit for Hurricane Andrew relief. To the Hawaiian star chef, the Tahitian from Florida stood out. They hit it off and, at 27, Terorotua became Choy’s corporate chef.
Choy’s own empire was ascendant in the ’90s. He had restaurants on the Big Island and O‘ahu; Terorotua helped him open more in San Diego, Kahului, Japan, Keauhou, Lahaina and Guam. “Sam couldn’t lose his composure because he was the brand. So I was the heavy,” Terorotua says. “If your food-cost numbers were out of whack, if your labor costs were out of control, if your cleanliness was out of control, I flew in. I was a problem solver.”
When the job ran its course, Terorotua opened a catering company with a friend. And he was getting into craft beer. Denver, Seattle and Portland were becoming ardent microbrewing hubs, and Terorotua was picking up prized discoveries on his travels to bring home in his suitcase. When he transitioned into a job as the beer buyer for Whole Foods Kāhala, he found he wasn’t the only one with a thirst. Locals were asking for craft brews they couldn’t find in Hawai‘i. Terorotua started bringing in lambics, bière de gardes, Belgian dubbels—anything he could get his hands on. He organized tastings and found avid audiences.
Still, Whole Foods, a handful of bars, a few liquor shops and limited selections on the shelves of some supermarkets were pretty much the extent of the craft beer scene in Honolulu. There were no consistent, lasting breweries, no beer festival, no craft pubs. It was only a matter of time before the light bulb went on in Terorotua’s head.
Deviled Ham Deviled Eggs
Tucked into the old Ward Farmers Market on ‘Auahi Street, Real was three years in the making. Together with fiancée Lisa Kim, Terorotua had been researching Mainland beer scenes, formulating a business plan and waiting for a good spot. “It used to be that, if you were a brewer and you had a tap at a bar, you had real estate in that place. We were going to rotate beers from different brewers and distributors and try a bunch of different beers. If we say come down because we have this, you might not see it on draft again for a month, two months,” Terorotua says. “We just didn’t know if it was going to take off. There was so much Coors Light and Heineken out there, it was depressing. We were like, what if people don’t get craft beer? We opened the doors and, boom, there were lines.”
Real opened only weeks before Pint + Jigger. Across town on King Street, the team of noted mixologist Dave Newman, Hideo and Grace Simon, and Daryn and Nicky Ogino had a similar idea, but with an added focus on Newman’s craft cocktails. Golden would soon launch his beer blog. Over in Kaka‘ako, Geoff Seideman was planning Honolulu Beerworks, where he would brew craft beers by the tank. And Kim, a veteran marketer and organizer of the Garlic & Ginger Festival, decided it was time for Honolulu to have a beer festival. Maui and the Big Island had had beer festivals for years, drawing thirsty aficionados including the O‘ahu crowd. You get the beer, Kim told Terorotua, and I’ll take care of the restaurants and logistics. The first Honolulu Brewers Festival in 2013 drew 1,800 craft beer fans to a parking lot on a Thursday night; by 2016, it was the capstone event of Honolulu Beer Week, with a sell-out crowd of 2,500 guzzling samples of 115 beers from 57 beer distributors at Kaka‘ako Makai Gateway Park.
The focus at Real was beer. The food morphed from Terorotua’s early intricate concepts to food that beer drinkers wanted: elevated pub fare with contemporary spins, made with beer whenever possible. It was the same when Terorotua and Kim opened Brew’d in Kaimukī. “How is Brew’d different from Real? It’s not,” Terorotua says. “It’s become the neighborhood bar. The people that live in the area, they’re the patrons most of the time. And we get people who come to try beers we don’t have at Real or Palate. The food is the same style but different flavors.”
Clockwise from top left: Bourbon-sautéed creminis on polenta, Bethel Street burger dog, ancho chili candied bacon, smoked ham baguette with brie and blackberry onion jam.
Palate follows that concept. The food menus at the three places relate like cousins. Buffalo deep-fried deviled eggs topped with hot sauce, ranch dressing and celery at Real morph into California roll deviled eggs at Brew’d; at Palate, the chopped ham in the filling makes it deviled ham deviled eggs. Candied bacon comes in a Sriracha version at Real, a roasted garlic incarnation at Brew’d and with an ancho chili kick at Palate.
Between the office towers of Downtown and the high-rise condos surrounding Chinatown, across the street from Hawai‘i Theatre, Palate draws a mix of hipsters frequenting the newly resurgent scene along Hotel Street and foodies looking for familiar dishes among the neighborhood’s esoteric cuisines. There’s a strong cocktail program as well, headed by former Bevy mixologist Nick Carter (you have to try his signature Belle, a gentle mezcal creation tinged with fresh citrus, honey and muddled red bell pepper).
At 6 on a weekday evening, the place is full. On the bar side, hipsters swap stories over frosty glasses. On the restaurant side, foodies tuck into ground beef stuffed into sausage casings and served on hot dog buns, and pepperoni pizza mac and cheese (a fun dish that pairs surprisingly with the sweet-tart Pimm’s gin cocktail). But it’s not just Palate that’s full. In Honolulu’s craft beer scene, Pint + Jigger is busy, Honolulu Beerworks has been joined by newer microbreweries in Lanikai, Waikīkī and other parts of the island, supermarkets stock Deschutes and Kona Brewing Co. selections, and Golden’s Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room, opened this summer with Pint’s Ogino, has been bustling from the start. And so it goes at brewpubs, microbreweries with tasting rooms, bars and restaurants with craft beers on draft, supermarket liquor sections and so on, across the island.
“Honolulu didn’t have a craft beer culture. That was my intention, to build one,” Terorotua says. “I don’t look at Palate as owning a third bar. I just saw a third opportunity to keep the craft beer movement in Hawai‘i going.”
Look out for Tap Attacks and Tap Takeovers, when some or all of Palate’s 16 taps are given over to one craft brewery’s lineup. Tap events have featured Big Island Brewhaus, Belching Beaver, Alaska’s Mid-night Sun Brewing and Belgium’s Cantillon. There’s no set schedule, so follow Palate Craft & Eatery on Facebook, @palatecrafteatery on Instagram and @palateeatery on Twitter.