The neighborhood of Kakaako, sitting on Honolulu's coastline tucked in between the skyscraper office buildings of downtown and the towering resorts of Waikiki, has deep roots as a residential area.
The salt ponds that once dotted the neighborhood were used for fishing by native Hawaiians, and in the 1800s the area developed into an enclave for various immigrant groups. In the mid-20th century, though, as other areas of Honolulu garnered more attention, Kakaako started to welcome more light industry, warehouses and auto body shops and lost of some its residential appeal.
Today, after a concerted effort that has involved multiple development groups and heavy amounts of public and private investment, Kakaako has seen a wave of new residential and commercial development.
New restaurants and stores continue to enter the neighborhood, with several scheduled for opening this fall, and Kakaako has gradually become a hot spot in Honolulu for finding top-notch restaurants, fun community activities and a bustling arts and culture scene driven by locals. The Howard Hughes Corp. has added residential units and retail space as developer of Kakaako's Ward Village and at the beginning of this month embarked on a $20 million upgrade to Kewalo Harbor.
One of the most prominent projects augmenting the character of the neighborhood is Our Kakaako, a development plan from Kamehameha Schools, which creates educational opportunities and strives to improve the well-being of native Hawaiians through various projects, including development opportunities. Kamehameha Schools was founded by the estate of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who was the last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I.
Included in the endowment were 363,000 acres across the state, the majority of which are agricultural or conservation lands. The land grant includes the nine blocks in Kakaako that comprise Our Kakaako, which opened its first building, the 54-unit Six Eighty residential project, in 2012. The intention was to build an area that stresses connectivity, pedestrian- and bike-friendly design, education and interaction with the arts, according to development director Paul Klay.
Because Kamehameha Schools owned nine entire blocks, Our Kakaako could take a broader approach to community development. Instead of controlling one small parcel, they could integrate all of the projects on their land.
"A lot of urban development is based on in-fill. You have one piece of land, and you are only looking at the best use for that land," Klay said. "That ends up being very insular and, in essence, is turning your back on your neighbor. We want this to be a community where people interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. Because of our master plan and the land grant, we have the opportunity to wrap all of these things together so the community functions more as a unit."
When the Our Kakaako project started, Klay and his team strove to immediately incorporate the existing businesses and art community. Just prior to the launch of Our Kakaako, artist Jasper Wong had started a mural project in the area. Klay approached Wong about an ongoing relationship.
Today, Pow Wow Hawaii, held every February, is one of the biggest mural festivals in the world, and the headquarters is in Lana Lane Studios, a collaborative arts and studio area part of Our Kakaako, where Wong plans his art festivals in cities around the world.
"We began with our commitment to showing an authentic slice of Hawaiian culture and maintaining the roots of the community," Klay said. "We wanted to work with the businesses already present and build around the local entrepreneurs. That created a buzz, and then other people, like the Highway Inn, wanted to come in. It grew organically from there."
The Highway Inn, which serves traditional Hawaiian dishes, was one of the first restaurants to come in with the Our Kakaako development. The restaurant is located in Salt, a mixed-use space that opened in 2015. Another one of the early first businesses to join Our Kakaako was Honolulu Beerworks. After a couple years in a converted warehouse, the brewery expanded and is planning to install a cannery and barrel-aging program.
Salt and Honolulu Beerworks are both examples of one of Our Kakaako's development principles: sustainable development employing an adaptive reuse strategy that repurposes sold buildings rather than tearing them down and starting anew.
"The focus is to find local entrepreneurs expressing their creativity through their art," Klay said. "In some cases, that's proven to be literal works of art; in some cases it is the culinary arts, or mixologists, or it's people who are into the art or philosophy of a healthy body, if you will. Salt is all about local entrepreneurs bringing their individual personality and creativity to the world."
The Pho-strami burger at Piggy Smalls, a new restaurant in the Kakaako neighborhood of Honolulu. Photo Credit: Tovin Lapan
• Eat the Street: Kakaako really comes alive on the last Friday of each month. Street Grindz, which programs culinary events around the city, runs this monthly showcase at the Kakaako Waterfront Park that includes 40 food vendors and typically draws about 7,000 hungry visitors.
• Pub crawls: There are plenty of watering holes to go along with the artists studios, shops and eateries popping up in Kakaako, and the walkability of the area makes the neighborhood a prime location for a bar tour. In addition to Honolulu Beerworks, the Aloha Beer Co. is also nearby. The Waikiki Brewing Co. just opened in the neighborhood in August, and the new space includes an outdoor patio and full food menu. Salt also puts on its own pub crawl on the third Saturday of every month. The tour, starting at 5 p.m., hops between a handful of different restaurants and bars serving wine and craft brews.
• Piggy Smalls: Chef Andrew Le gained notoriety for his acclaimed downtown Honolulu restaurant the Pig and the Lady. This Kakaako offshoot with a hip-hop-inspired name opened in late 2016, serves up Vietnamese, Southeast Asian, North African and European-inspired takes on comfort food. The Pho-strami burger — slow-smoked pastrami cooked with pho spices, a grass-fed beef patty, pickled mustard seeds, sriracha onions and "secret awesome sauce" — should be on every burger aficionado's must-try list.
• Salt: The Salt retail project on Auahi, Coral and Keawe streets is quickly becoming a hub of activity in the center of Kakaako. The space is already home to the Highway Inn, Hank's Haute Hot Dogs, Lanikai Juice, Butterfly Ice Cream, Hungry Ear Records and botanical boutique shop Paiko. Additionally, every third Friday and Saturday of the month, Salt hosts the Paakai Marketplace, which showcases local products and Hawaiian culture. Held in collaboration with the PAI Foundation, the event features live music, and entry is free. The open-air space also has a lineup of new tenants coming on board, including gym OrangeTheory Fitness. The Louisiana-style seafood restaurant the Boiling Crab is slated to open in October. Pitch Sports Bar is under construction on the second floor but has yet to announce an opening date. Slated to debut in November, W at Kakaako will be a sit-down restaurant serving up American, Japanese and Italian fusion using Hawaiian-sourced ingredients.
• Brewseum: This family-operated museum is dedicated to two things: suds and soldiers. The two buildings contain World War II memorabilia, dubbed the Home of the Brave Museum, in addition to artifacts detailing the history of beer brewing in Hawaii. On the second level is a 1940s-inspired speakeasy Tiki bar, with an outdoor patio featuring six domestic microbrews and the museum's own Home of the Brave brew.