Bowled over: More than two years in the making, Hina Rae’s expands to Kamuela

  • Waimea and Honokaa friends Jessica Histo and Jay Cardoza meet at Hina Rae’s Kamuela to share waffles, breakfast and acai bowls with their children Wednesday. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)

  • The cafe’s interior design style resulted from the combined efforts of Julie Hanano, Shelina Ignacio and her partner, Kalei Serrao. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)

  • The Snowball — a dessert-style dish flavored with mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, condensed milk and Nutella — is one of 10 acai bowls on the Hina Rae’s Kamuela menu. (Photos by LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)

  • Shelina Ignacio, right, and her family members (from left) Kalei, Ella Rae, Kaeden and Hina Serrao take a break at their new Waimea café.

WAIMEA — Deciding which item to order at Hina Rae’s Kamuela is no easy feat.

Customers have been salivating over the menu — with 10 different acai bowls, seven waffle variations, five breakfast and lunch dishes and a creative twist on nachos — since the store opened Jan. 22 at Waimea Center.

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Somewhere between 50 and 70 loyal customers have flocked to the new café daily, according to its owner, Shelina Ignacio, who grew up in Waimea and celebrated her 30th birthday opening day.

“It starts getting busy at 10 a.m. and continues until 1 p.m.,” she said. “Then it’s busy around 3 p.m. when school gets out until we close.”

Among the top sellers are Kaeden’s Fave — acai with granola, chia, almonds, seasonal fruit, a sprinkle of hemp seeds, coconut flakes and a drizzle of raw local honey — and the chocolate-lovers’ Choco Craze acai bowls. Other acai options include the Farmer’s Market — Ignacio’s personal favorite using similar ingredients in Kaeden’s Fave but with tropical fruits, The Buzz — for honey lovers, Avo Avo — picture slices of avocado on top for extra creaminess, Gojified — enough said, and For the Love of Peanut Butter bowls.

The tropical specialty bowl is Ignacio’s version of halo halo — a Filipino “shaved ice sundae” made with boba tapioca balls in a slushy cream base, topped with fruit, sweet potato pieces, a scoop of ube ice cream made from purple yams and a condensed milk drizzle. The Snowball and Cookie Butter acai bowls are other dessert-like treats.

“Kaeden’s Fave acai bowl with an added drizzle of Nutella is my favorite,” local resident Jan Boneza said. “I’m so happy they opened their new location in Waimea. It’s convenient, with parking that’s accessible.”

About six months after opening her first Hina Rae’s in 2014 in Honokaa, Ignacio decided she wanted to find a Waimea location with a larger kitchen to expand the menu. Although she has no culinary training, her creativity can be seen in five new bowls for breakfast or lunch, such as the Get In My Belly Pork Belly dish — imagine pork belly roasted until tender, then pan fried with adobo sauce and served over brown rice with a soft boiled egg and fried banana.

“I decided to add modern Filipino cuisine to the menu after looking at other restaurants’ menus in town so we could be different, but not take business away from them,” Ignacio said. “I’m proud of where I’m from and my culture. I wanted to do a play on pork belly. Growing up, I always had a banana with my adobo and everybody seems to be loving it.”

Ignacio’s partner, Kalei Serrao, had some of ideas of his own.

“He’s a local boy and a lot of the menu was inspired by him, especially the waffles,” Ignacio laughed. “He came up with putting Spam on the waffle and the waffle BLT.”

Jessica Histo, a Waimea resident, has been a fan of Hina Rae’s since they opened in Honokaa.

“My favorite dish would definitely be the breakfast waffle sandwich. It’s sweet and savory, but everything is good on the menu,” she said.

Jay Cardoza, who lives in Honokaa, now goes to both locations.

“I came here to meet my friend, to sit, relax and eat awesome food,” she said Wednesday in Waimea. “We love supporting Shelina and are so proud of all of her accomplishments.”

Ignacio strives to use healthy ingredients whenever possible, such as local fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts and coconut oil.

“We also offer gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian options,” she said. “I do a lot of research on Yelp to look at why people aren’t satisfied when they come to a restaurant, which helped me figure out how we could cater to everybody.”

Two-and-a-half years ago, Ignacio set her sights on the Waimea spot. Planning, remodeling and awaiting permits took more patience than anticipated.

“We had to add drywall, new ceiling tiles, plumbing, electrical, pour concrete and add partitions. It was a lot,” Ignacio said. “Kalei did much of this, and we were very blessed with a lot of friends who work in construction that helped keep the costs down.”

During the interim, Ignacio opened Hina Rae’s Sugar Shack in Waimea in 2016, not far from Paniolo Country Inn, that was primarily a candy store. She closed it to open her new store last month.

Barely 750 square feet in size, the new cozy café’s interior design was inspired by Ignacio’s friend, Julie Hanano, who has also worked on the high-end Kohanaiki real estate development in Kona.

“She’s spunky and thinks outside the box,” Ignacio said. “You can see a lot of her work at both of our cafes. Kalei is really creative too. Julie would sketch out an idea and he would build it — like the door, the counter and partition in our new location.”

A Honokaa High School graduate, Ignacio named the stores after her two daughters, Hina and Ella Rae.

“This is for them, for their future, so we can provide for them,”she said. “My inner strength comes from my girls, Kalei and friends.”

Her advice for other female entrepreneurs?

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“Go for it,” Ignacio said. “Don’t let your doubt stop you. We were really blessed that people liked our stuff. If you want to do something, take that chance because if not, you’re always going to wonder.”

Info: Hina Rae’s Kamuela is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For take-out orders call 731-5873. Lunch specials can be found on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/hinaraescafe.