Windward Community College Hasn’t Had a Cafeteria in Years—Until Now

‘Uala Leaf Café serves hot entrées and daily specials while doubling as a working lab for the college’s food service training program.
The chicken enchilada is one of the specials at ‘Uala Leaf Café, which opened this year at Windward Community College.
Photos: Catherine TOth Fox


It was after the lunch rush and the new cafeteria, ‘Uala Leaf Café at Windward Community College, was quiet and relaxed—very similar to the vibe on this campus nestled beneath the verdant Ko‘olau Mountains.


I had met up with Kimberlee Bassford, WCC’s new journalism instructor and adviser for the student paper, Ka ‘Ohana. (She’s also an independent filmmaker who’s probably best known for her documentary on the late Patsy Mink.) She sold me on the day’s specials: a layered chicken enchilada and a southwest tortilla salad.


Inside the new café on the first floor of Hale ʻĀkoakoa. The space doubles as a working lab for WCC’s Hi‘ilani Food Service Innovation Training program.


It’s been five years since WCC has had a cafeteria; it was part of the Employment Training Center until funding was cut in 2011. ‘Uala Leaf Café opened in January on the first floor of Hale ʻĀkoakoa, which houses the student activities center, counseling offices, students services and the campus bookstore. It’s open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with various hot entrées, vegetarian dishes, hamburgers, salads and Spam musubi. (Cash only.)


This commercial kitchen space doubles as the working lab for WCC’s Hi‘ilani Food Service Innovation Training program, where students get on-the-job training preparing and serving food at the café. The program’s mission is to provide basic education, technical skills and training in food preparation and production.


Kitchen manager Mike Roth designed and equipped the fully licensed training kitchen, which boasts a six-burner gas stove, an industrial oven and a refurbished walk-in refrigerator. The kitchen tries to use fresh vegetables and herbs grown on campus.


On the day I visited, the daily specials included a tortilla salad ($5.50) with grilled vegetables, tofu, shredded romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, sour cream and a red-chili vinaigrette. It came with two scoops of Spanish rice. It wasn’t anything extraordinarily special—the tortilla shell was crispy, the veggies plentiful, the rice evenly flavored—but it was satisfying and cheap. That almost always wins me over. (Bassford, who eats here regularly, opted for her go-to lunch of a burger and tofu fries.)


The tortilla salad comes with grilled vegetables, tofu, shredded romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, sour cream and a red-chili vinaigrette—all for $5.50.


At ‘Uala, you can get potato or tofu fries (above) for a little extra.


The layered chicken enchilada ($5.50) featured shredded chicken, refried beans, onions, black olives and a house-made enchilada sauce.  It was labeled as a green choice—meaning healthy and nutritious—in the categories that are part of the Choose Healthy Now Program, a partnership with the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services’ Division of Vocational rehabilitation Ho‘opono Vending Program. The meals here are labeled as green (healthy), yellow (more sodium, sugar or fat than green items, so eat in moderation) and red (highest in calories, sodium, sugar and fat with few benefits).

You can even get your meals halved to go, so that you only eat half of the serving while saving the other half to eat later. That’s part of the Blue Zones Project, a community-wide, well-being improvement initiative brought to the Islands by the Hawai‘i Medical Service Association. Uala Leaf Café is  working towards becoming a Blue Zones Project Approved restaurant, one of a handful in Ko‘olaupoko. The café has begun to make changes to its menu to highlight healthier options, as well as offer more plant-based entrees.


In addition to the popular Ko‘olau Burger, hot dogs, garden hummus wraps and salads, the café offers daily specials including pork adobo with fried rice, vegetable pancit, vegetarian lasagna and baked fish with a garlic lemon-butter sauce.


Currently, there are 20 students enrolled in the Hi‘ilani Food Service Innovation Training program. These students will graduate with the kind of nationally recognized credentials employers want.


“We are unique and innovative (at WCC) because we will always be workforce development-focused,” says Charlene Akina, WCC’s workforce development coordinator. “It’s been an amazing journey.”


‘Uala Leaf Café, Hale ʻĀkoakoa, Windward Community College, 45-720 Keaahala Road, Kāneʻohe, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Cash only.