The Historic Wai‘oli Tea Room Reopens as the Wai‘oli Kitchen and Bake Shop
The new Wai‘oli restores its original mission by employing people from Salvation Army’s drug and treatment center and those transitioning out of prison.
Photos: Martha Cheng
When we were young, were our lives simpler? Or has our memory stripped away the complications, leaving only bittersweet—but mostly sweet—nostalgia? The past may not actually be simpler, but the new Wai‘oli Kitchen and Bake Shop is. It’s the newest iteration of the beloved and historic Wai‘oli Tea Room, built in 1922 and shuttered for the past four years after a series of operators struggled to keep it financially afloat. Gone are the chintzy tablecloths, red velvet waffles and gift shop bric-a-brac, and in their place is a modern farmhouse aesthetic and refreshingly uncomplicated menu
Your breakfast and lunch choices are narrowed to 10: Among them are a short rib loco moco ($14), banana mac nut pancakes ($10) and BLT ($9). I don’t have to tell you what these taste like—these dishes are practically culinary touchstones in Hawai‘i—all you need to know is that Wai‘oli executes them perfectly, from the tender short rib to fluffy pancakes to the soft, white house-made bread. It’s food that confirms expectations, and then releases your attention so you can move on to other details in life.
Ross Anderson, who leases the space from the Salvation Army, had originally designed a very different menu. “It was like the Cheesecake Factory,” says Anderson, who had managed Duke’s Waikīkī for more than 20 years. “There were a million and one items—everything I had wanted to eat on it. I showed it to my friend Peter Merriman, and he said, ‘whoa, man, don’t do it.’” (Merriman is partner with TS Restaurants, which owns Duke’s.) They pared down the menu and also took into consideration the skills of Wai‘oli’s cooks. For in keeping with Wai‘oli Tea Room’s original mission—to serve as a vocational training center for the residents of Salvation Army’s home for orphaned or abandoned children—Wai‘oli employs and teaches life and work skills to women from Salvation Army’s drug and treatment center and those transitioning out of prison.
“Whatever you do, don’t do it,” friends told Stefanie Anderson, a pastor and Ross Anderson’s wife, on reopening the Wai‘oli Tea Room. “But we surmised that maybe it opened and closed so much because it had deviated from the original mission,” Stefanie says. The recent previous lessees of the space ran it more as a business than a social enterprise, and the Andersons decided “the second part of our lives we wanted to be more mission driven than money driven,” she says.
The Andersons’ restoration of the original objective, along with the new interior of Wai‘oli—the clutter swept out, old black-and-white photos of the space hung on the walls, couches that invite you to linger in the light-filled space—make Wai‘oli Kitchen and Bakeshop feel like a direct line to the old Wai‘oli Tea Room. Stefanie says Salvation Army’s theme is second chances: “It’s never too late to be who you want to be. It’s never too late to be who you’re meant to be.” And in the case of Wai‘oli, it’s never too late to be what it once was.
2950 Mānoa Road, Tuesday through Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., (808) 744-1619, waiolikitchen.com