Fijian-style barbecue from Tolu: Modern Fijian Cuisine — sous vide lamb chop and quartered chicken leg marinated in Tolu’s own special marinade and served with sautéed onions, taro, rice, and pineapple slaw. (Photo: Tolu: Modern Fijian Cuisine)

Intentionalist: Celebrate Pacific Islander-Owned Businesses

by Kristina Rivera

Intentionalist is built on one simple idea: where we spend our money matters. We make it easy to find, learn about, and support small businesses and the diverse people behind them through everyday decisions about where we eat, drink, and shop. #SpendLikeItMatters

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month can often be an invisibilizing time for Native Hawai‘ian and Pacific Islander communities in the United States. The focus tends to shift toward East Asian countries, which pushes Native Hawai‘ian and Pacific Islander experiences by the wayside.

Putting Native Hawai‘ians and Pacific Islanders under the umbrella term AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) erases the dozens of diverse cultures and countries that make up the Pacific Islands. Washington is home to the third highest Native Hawai‘ian and Pacific Islander population in the United States, so it’s crucial we actively support and center the voices of the people who too often go ignored — especially during a month that’s supposed to be about the celebration of their culture, too.

Intentionalist encourages you to get to know the Native Hawai‘ian and Pacific Islander-owned businesses in your communities and, of course, we know food is an excellent entry point into learning about any culture. Food can speak volumes about the places it comes from and teaches us so much about the people who created it.

Here are three Native Hawai‘ian and Pacific Islander-owned eateries in the Greater Seattle Area you can support:

Peter Buza, owner of Kauai Family Restaurant in Georgetown. (Photo: Intentionalist)

Kauai Family Restaurant

Peter Buza, the owner of Kauai Family Restaurant in Georgetown, has been serving authentic Hawai‘ian food and bringing the aloha spirit to Seattle for an impressive 28 years. Peter moved to Seattle from Kaua‘i in 1993 to open his own restaurant and bring the flavors of his Hawai‘ian roots to the PNW. That same year, he took over a Hawai‘ian barbecue spot in Georgetown and renamed it after his home. He initially served burgers, adobo, and chicken teriyaki — dishes that Peter describes as local Hawai‘ian food because it’s a blend of cuisines from the variety of cultures present on the islands. But Peter always knew he wanted to serve more authentic Hawai‘ian recipes. His father was Ilocano Filipino, and his mother was Native Hawai‘an and Spanish, and they each had their own styles of cooking. Peter was also a chef at a well-known restaurant in Kaua‘i for 12 years and took all his knowledge of cooking to develop his own recipes at Kauai Family Restaurant. Two months after opening, he started serving dishes like kalua pig, lau lau, and chicken long rice — food you’d typically find at Hawai‘ian luaus. Word spread quickly about his incredible Hawai‘ian food, and the rest is history.

Peter currently runs his restaurant with his daughter, Randi Buza. His favorite dish at Kauai Family Restaurant is the oxtail soup (cooked low and slow) and the lau laus — chunks of pork topped with salted black cod that’s wrapped in taro and ti leaves and steamed to perfection.

“When I first opened the restaurant, it was about sharing our culture — sharing the food that I knew [with] people that needed a chance to taste [it] and see how they like it. It wasn’t about money. I grew up poor in Hawai‘i. My dad worked for the sugarcane field plantation and had six kids. And we were happy, and we had food on the table. And that’s what I want when people try our food — the happiness that you can see on their face.”

— Peter Buza

Paniolo and Lilly Gaoa, the two owners of Lilly’s Bakery & Deli in Kent and Tacoma. (Photo: Lilly’s Bakery & Deli)

Lilly’s Bakery & Deli

Paniolo and Lilly Gaoa opened Lilly’s Bakery & Deli because of their love for Samoan food and their passion for the work it takes to share it with other people. The couple always struggled to find places in the Seattle area that sold Samoan food — and Samoan baked goods in particular — they grew up eating. They always loved cooking Samoan recipes and experimenting with them at home, and Lilly was constantly baking and cooking for family and church functions. Eventually, Lilly and Paniolo started getting calls to help cater weddings and other big events, which is when they realized how much they loved doing these jobs — it didn’t feel like work to them. So, they used their savings to open their storefront in Kent in 2015 selling Samoan deli and bakery items based on recipes they developed themselves as well as from family recipes. Turkey tail, soy lamb, and lamb curry are some of the traditional Samoan savory items you’ll find on their menu along with fresh-baked goods like panikekes, round donuts fried to a perfect golden brown, and half-moon pies — a tender shortbread half-moon shell filled with a smooth, pineapple custard filling.

Lilly’s favorite item at her bakery and deli is the pineapple moon cup, which is a cupcake that uses a recipe she invented in her own kitchen. After a batch of pineapple half-moon pies, Lilly wanted to repurpose the leftover ingredients, and the pineapple moon cup was born.

“[Lilly’s Bakery & Deli] is able to provide and give people a taste of what we have to offer. The main thing is that people know who we are — we are Samoans, and we are from the Pacific Islands, and that we are here and that we do exist. This is a great platform to educate people where we’re from, who we are. It’s not always about the dances and what we wear — it’s also about the food that we make, and that has been the most rewarding part of this business.”

— Lilly Gaoa

(From left to right) Anand, Krishan, and Raajan Kumar, owners of Tolu: Modern Fijian Cuisine. (Photo: Tolu: Modern Fijian Cuisine)

Tolu: Modern Fijian Cuisine

Tolu: Modern Fijian Cuisine is brothers Anand, Krishan, and Raajan Kumar’s modern take on classic Fijian food. Tolu means three in Fijian, which represents the three brothers and the three flavors they incorporate in their dishes: Indian, Native Fijian, and the Paciifc Northwest. With a historically large Indian population in Fiji, Fijian food has been largely influenced by Indian recipes that have evolved over time. Before opening their pop-up and catering company in 2019, the closest Fijian restaurant Anand and his brothers could find in the Pacific Northwest was in Vancouver, BC, and Tolu is the Kumar brothers’ way of introducing Fijian food and culture to the Seattle area. Their most popular dish is the chicken curry tacos, which are chicken and potatoes in curry served on hand-rolled poori fry bread topped with pico de gallo and tamarind chutney. In the past, they’ve also adapted a classic Fijian recipe called kokoda, which is essentially a Fijian ceviche in coconut milk, using salmon to add their PNW touch. The recipes at Tolu may be modern, but they’re rooted in tradition — Tolu uses a special masala spice blend that’s been passed down in the Kumar family for generations.

Anand’s favorite dish Tolu has served is the Fijian-style barbecue, which comes with a lamb chop, quartered chicken leg, and bratwurst in a soy-based marinade that’s sous vide to ensure the meat is tender and juicy. Currently, you can catch Tolu at Tacoma’s Point Ruston Public Market on Sundays throughout the summer.

“It’s very important to support small businesses because there’s a lot of mom-and-pop shops and smaller businesses that you can essentially travel the world without leaving your city. You can learn more about other cultures without having to actually travel, because we can’t at the moment. I feel like there’s a lot of diversity that people can tap into.”

— Anand Kumar

Kristina Rivera is the marketing and communications coordinator at Intentionalist. She graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in journalism and public relations and has worked with organizations ranging from local nonprofits to global PR firms.

📸 Featured Image: Fijian-style barbecue from Tolu: Modern Fijian Cuisine — sous vide lamb chop and quartered chicken leg marinated in Tolu’s own special marinade and served with sautéed onions, taro, rice, and pineapple slaw. (Photo: Tolu: Modern Fijian Cuisine)

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