Quote Unquote: How a Local Chef Cooks with Kindness During the Holidays

Keith Ward, owner of Keneke’s Grill, was taking a break when he spotted a woman digging through the trash for food to feed her four kids. He decided then that he would do whatever he could to help the homeless.

  Charity chef


For 13 years, Ward, who has a 25-acre farm in Punalu‘u, and his crew have been cooking and serving hot meals at Waikīkī Health’s Next Step Shelter every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, as well as two to three times a month year round.


Knowing these people are struggling … I really felt bad about this situation. This is a cycle that needs to be broken. Those kids need to see people with compassion and action to want to change.


A few key people on my staff who have been with me for many years know that when it’s a holiday, we’re headed to the shelter. I’m going to do it as long as I can.


Christmas night they get carved roast beef, turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, yams, rice and salad. They get really special food on the holidays. We treat them just like we treat a paying customer.


I have a white beard, and with a Santa hat I look pretty good at Christmas time. I dress up as Santa. The guys get a kick out of it. They appreciate the fact that we’re there on the holidays. That’s what I live for.


One of the guys who has been in and out of the [shelter] actually works part-time for me. I’ve had a couple of other guys who have come out of there and move out to this area; I give them jobs.


SEE ALSO: 6 Ways to Help Serve Meals to Those in Need This Holiday Season on O‘ahu


I grew up on a self-sustaining dairy farm in upstate New York. We milked and grew everything we ate. I was 5 years old when I walked into my first grocery store.


It’s funny because I used to have to milk the cows before I went to school and when I came home. When I left [New York], I said to myself, “I’m never going to do farming again.”


My dad laughs at me. He says, “You told me for 40 years you wouldn’t come back and take over the farm, so I sold it. And look at you now. You’re milking goats!”


Before Christmas, we go [to a senior home in Kahuku] and provide a Christmas lunch. I put on my Santa suit and … bring a few of my goats. We dress the goats up like reindeer with bells and lights. We give them their gifts and they get pretty emotional. We hit a few other shelters and do the same thing.


Every time I’m blessed, I pass the blessing on. If I have a little extra food, I pass it on to others.


It doesn’t matter how much money you make as long as what you do makes you happy.