Hawaii Nei Cafe: Jay Henry and Loryn Agpalza

While visiting The Thicket on South First I had the chance to meet and talk with Hawaii Nei Cafe owners Jay Henry and Loryn Agpalza.  They grew up and were raising their kids on the island of Oahu when they decided to make the move to Austin.  

“Living on an island your whole life, you realize you’re missing out on opportunities,” Henry said.

Austin has had a lot of poke ́ restaurants pop up recently so I quickly wanted to find out what made their poke ́ unique.

“There is no competition for our genre of food,” Henry said.  “Our concept is you come have lunch with us then you get on a plane and go to Hawaii you get off and have plate lunches and it’s the same thing.”

So if you visit a poke´ restaurant with ties to California, like most in Austin, there are differences compared to this authentic Hawiaan based business.  Henry said the demand for authentic Hawian poke ́ was more than he anticipated.

“It’s working out well.  We like Austin. We’re very community based, even though we’re from Hawaii we’ve met a lot of people,” Henry said.  “A lot of the people we’ve met have some kind of ties to Hawaii. Either they’ve lived there or have visited.” 

Agpalza recalled how things went during their restaurants first few months.

“We thought in South Austin no one would want Hawiian [food] but we were wrong,” Agpalaza said.  “Our lines were like non-stop!”

I continued asking about their authentic style and where poke´ originated.

“In Hawaii Poke dates back before King Kamehameha.  They had to make a lot of different dishes with reef fish,” Henry said.  “With poke ́, people would get off work, go buy a half pound of poke ́, a case of bear, make the sauce, they’d sit around eat the poke ́, drink the beer and tell stories.  It wasn’t a meal. It was much simpler than the California style.”

Looking at the menu on the side of the food truck, I realized the poke ́ options were only half the menu and having Hawiian barbeque options makes their restaurant even more authentic to Hawiann cuisine.  

“We have a barbeque side and a poke ́ side.  We found people in Texas love barbeque as much as people in Hawaii,” Henry said.  “If you go to a local restaurant in Hawaii those will be your core menu items like kalua pig and cabbage.  The beautiful thing about Hawaii is that it’s jam packed with so many cultures. They’re taking the best stuff of this and the best of that,” Henry said.  “It starts to get mixed up it’s kind of like a hurricane of flavor. It’s so good.”

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