Kailua Welcomes a Tiny Curbside Parklet Built From Recycled Materials

Café Kopi’s owners to greet the mini-green’s arrival with a party, local art and music.


Kailua Parklet fronting Cafe Kopi

New parklet in Kailua. Photo: Robbie Dingeman


Native plants peek out from Windward O‘ahu’s first urban mini-park, built by volunteers from recycled construction materials near several popular Kailua coffee shops and boutiques.


The curbside parklet features muted gray curves, greenery and bench seating. There’s room for a well-behaved dog and enough space to roll up a bike or a wheelchair. And the whole structure fits in just one parking space.


Café Kopi owners Jeanne Ng and Ernest Shih, who are originally from Singapore, liked the concept of a parklet, specifically a stylish micro-landscape that would complement their business and others along Kīhāpai Street. “A coffee shop is always that third space between work and home, another place for community to come hang out,” Ng says. “We like a bit of a mishmash and quirkiness.”


Café Kopi owners Ernest Shih and Jeanne Ng

Café Kopi owners Ernest Shih and Jeanne Ng. Photo: Robbie Dingeman


This is the latest venture from Better Block Hawai‘i, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reshaping communities by collaborating with local partners. Better Block’s Abbey Seitz credits Ng and Shih for enthusiastically supporting something sustainable and fun.


And Seitz says the project got an added boost from a group of environmental design architecture students from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa who call themselves Pocket Green. “They had a grant to develop a design that incorporates greenery and native plants,” Seitz says.


Better Block handled the permitting, funding of about $10,000 came from a grant and impact investment firm Ulupono Initiative, AARP and Re-use Hawai‘i staff and AARP provided construction materials, expertise and coordinated volunteers. Better Block has also built parklets in Kaimukī, planted trees in Kalihi and worked in other communities across the Islands.


UH architecture students working on parklet at Re-use Hawaii

UH architecture students working with Phil Ziegler on the parklet at Re-use Hawai‘i. Photo: Courtesy of Re-use Hawai‘i.


Phil Ziegler of Re-use appreciates that some of the wood used for the parklet came from a North Shore house that the nonprofit deconstructed a few months ago: “Now we turn it into something new.”


While the Kailua parklet was still under construction in April, the café owners planned a welcome party to be held on Friday, May 5, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. with local art from @surfjoysocial and live music by The Tobys and Lilia. The café opened in 2021 and quickly developed a following for its coffee and croissants. It soon added community events, including concerts and art, to its mission. The menu expanded with additions like kaya jam toast made with pandan leaves and coconut, meaty and vegan Chinese dumplings and comforting bowls of Singapore shrimp laksa served Friday through Sunday.


SEE ALSO: New Windward Café Has Singaporean Flair and Weekend Laksa


Shih, whose family has owned the building for years, sees this as another way to deepen the sense of community in Kailua.


Cafe Kopi Food Spread

Sweet and savory food at Café Kopi. Photo: Robbie Dingeman


So does Ali McMahon, who runs the stylish Olive boutique as well as Oliver, the guy-centric shop a few doors down, with her husband, Parker Moosman. “I think it’s great; I think Kailua’s overdue for this,” she says.


Another pint-sized Better Block parklet fronted Richie’s Drive Inn alongside busy North King Street in Kalihi for a little more than a year before it was removed, Seitz says. (Other parklets have been built in Downtown and Kaka‘ako.)


SEE ALSO: Kalihi Gets a Little More Public Space with this Bright Pint-Sized Park


When the drive-in was still closed to indoor dining, customers used the parklet’s bus-sized structure to eat. But after dining reopened, she says the underused little space became a safety concern. The organization removed the structure but will continue to explore other projects that the community supports to see what can be repurposed, Seitz says. And Ziegler notes that part of the deck for the Kailua project was recycled from the Kalihi parklet’s flooring.


Ng and Shih expect the Kailua space to evolve. “We liked the idea that you can sit under a tree, you can have babies rolling on the grass.” The mini-park already has its own kukui tree, tī plants and a tiny grassy slope, but babies will have to hold their roll until the grass has some time to grow.


Parklet under construction

Volunteers worked on the Kailua parklet even in the rain. Photo: Robbie Dingeman


45 Kīhāpai St., (808) 262-9050, 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday–Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday–Sunday. cafekopihawaii.com@cafekopihawaii