The Kahuku restaurant formerly known as Tita’s Grill is now under new ownership and has been renamed Mana’s Grindz. Cranston “Maka” Haaheo Mahuka, the chef at Tita’s Grill for six years, is now the new owner. “The story began when Uncle Junior decided to run two food trucks at PCC. Running two to three units is kind of hard…so he said I could take over their Kahuku shop.”
Michelle Keliikuli, Maka’s office manager, said the process was literally overnight. “On a Sunday, Junior called to offer the shop to Maka. He said, ‘If you have the money, it’s all yours.’ Maka paid him on Sunday night and on Monday morning we took over. Of course, we still had to take care of the business license and approvals, which are not overnight, but that’s basically how it was taken over.”
The food and menu are very similar to the original Tita’s Grill, said Maka, and he was asked to change the name so the public was aware that the AhYou family no longer owns it. “We have worked here [three months] now as Mana’s Grindz and it’s been running very well. I also work at Turtle Bay as a sous chef with my wife. I’ve been working over there for 16 years,” said Maka. “We keep ourselves very busy.
“The cooks arrive at 6 a.m. to begin preparing the breakfast meats, rice, and cocoa rice. Everything has to be done between 6 and 7.”
Kahuku High School students are their biggest customers, according to Maka. “The students come from 7 to 8 in the morning and that’s our rush hour. We try to accommodate them as much as we can. We know the majority of the kids by name and they call us uncle and auntie. We already know what most of them will order,” said Maka.
The top-selling item is cocoa rice, according to Maka. “BYUH students love the cocoa rice and the bread,” he said. Students used to order the Polynesian bread from Tita’s, but Mana’s Grindz cannot offer it because the managers at Tita’s own the recipe. “There was a big drop from students, so I figured I needed to find something to replace the bread with. We serve the cocoa rice with Hawaiian sweet bread,” he replied.
Maka decided to get rid of fountain drinks at the shop and offered the opportunity for a drink truck to open up next to Mana’s Grindz. Michelle Keliikuli and her sister have opened up Hoku’s and serve lava flows and smoothies. “We’re starting out small and plan to expand down the line. He has lava flows, pina coladas, snow-ice, shave ice, sunrise drinks, and coffee any way you like it. None of the drinks are alcoholic and there are lots of other choices other than coffee so we can cater to the LDS community,” explained Keliikuli.
Keliikuli said Maka invited her to open up the specialized drink truck. “I took the idea to my sister, and we are now a partnership in this venture. We were not planning on doing anything like this, but Maka came to us in April and we went for it,” she said.
Not used to running a business, Keliikuli said she is familiar with taxes and paperwork for a restaurant. “This is totally new. I like it, but it’s scary. We had no idea what we were getting into, so we have done a lot of research. This whole thing is a lot of trial and error.” She said suggestions and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated. Students and family have given feedback to help them perfect their recipes.
Maka added, “The kids also go crazy with the Hoku’s drink truck and get lava flows in the morning. They order so much sugar in the morning, so crazy.”
Residents of Kahuku and Laie like their drinks much sweeter than places like Hawaii Kai or Sunset Beach, said Keliikuli. “I guess those people are more health conscious, and we don’t seem to care. Now I try to ask everyone what level of sweetness they want, so I can’t go wrong,” she said.
Maka said running the restaurant is a family effort with his children included. Mei Mei Mahuka, Maka’s wife, said she enjoys working with her husband. “I like working with him, but it’s not fun to have him as a boss. He’s always telling me what to do,” she said with a laugh. During the work day, Mahuka helps her kids learn to work and do chores around the shop.
“We get along and it’s nice to have a working family together,” she added. “My kids are learning to help and clean, and the other one is little so he just hangs around and helps pick up trash. They do lots of beginner chores. They get to be at work with us, sometimes they get bored and want to be on the iPad, but they have to work for it.”
Maka said, “We wake up at 5 a.m. and get the kids ready; one goes to school in Laie. Then we’re at the shop [in 25 minutes].” He added with a smile, “We get ready pretty fast.”
Keliikuli said she has learned to be flexible at her new job. “Sometimes the electricity goes out and things happen. We have to wear a lot of different hats. I think generally in life, we shouldn’t be afraid of failure. Without failure we wouldn’t be able to grow. So we take it minute by minute, readjust, and try again,” she advised.