What do you get when you combine Kona’s cultural diversity, years of experience with a family restaurant business, high-end food and beverage management, a New Orleans vibe, and a dog-loving couple who want to open a restaurant?
Why, Poi Dog Deli, what else?
The owners of Poi Dog Deli, 75-1022 Henry St. in Kona, get asked about the name of their establishment a lot, said Taylor Cline, who with her partner Celeste Cline, opened the restaurant across from Walmart and Safeway in April.
“There are hundreds of different backgrounds, food flavors and cultures getting along here in Kona side by side, and we wanted to celebrate and highlight that in our name and approach. Most of all we wanted to merge all those things into a big blend of fun.”
“We wanted to create the New Orleans style of a neighborhood deli,’ Celeste added, “where you can grab a beer out of the fridge, pop it open, order a sandwich, and munch on popcorn while waiting for your order.”
While you can’t stroll down the street in Kona sipping on said beer in true Big Easy style, that “homey” neighborhood feel has been otherwise successfully reproduced on Henry Street.
Key to that was developing a sort of indoor beer garden, physically separated from the purchasing area, which allowed Poi Dog, working cooperatively with a very helpful Liquor Commission, to operate under a retail beer and wine license. You purchase your food and beverage on one side of a little interior gate, and then step through it into the dining area to imbibe and eat. Poi Dog’s staff can’t pop open your brew, you have to do that yourself, but you can practice that move on the Big Island’s largest selection of craft beer.
The process that culminated in this casual dining experience started about two years ago when Taylor and Celeste decided that Kona needed a good sandwich spot. Their other goals were to serve reasonably priced, quality food, and gear it toward locals.
“What we want the community to know is that our main focus is on the Kona community,” Taylor said. “The issue we saw with Kona dining is that most restaurants focus on tourists at tourist prices. We wanted to be able to provide something to the people who live in our community, not to somebody who comes here once a year. That’s why we wanted this location; it’s accessible and on the way to everything.”
The long ramp up toward bringing their concept into reality went through the usual delays experienced by many Big Island businesses, prime among those being the frustration caused by the permitting process, compounded by the island’s remote location.
“They are certainly short-staffed,” Taylor said about the county, an observation that’s been echoed by many other businesses trying to get open. “Every small delay in paperwork approval, and then getting a part delivered based on that approval translates into a big delay. These delays all add to the challenge of opening a business here.”
Something Poi Dog’s owners observed in the process that other business owners have as well is that it would be helpful to have a sort of a road map of what needs to happen throughout in the building/permitting process as a way to make it easier to navigate on their own when lining up multiple inspections.
But those delays are in the past and Poi Dog’s owners are concentrating on working the kinks out of their menu. They recently finished adding the final menu item and now consider themselves fully open. Still, they’re planning to implement a “grab and go” selection of ready-made items in the cooler as their next step.
“We’ve experienced both the joy and the pain of living out here in the middle of nowhere,” Taylor said, reflecting on the long road traveled turning their dream into a reality. “The joy is that it’s the middle of nowhere; the pain is that it’s the middle of nowhere. But we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. No matter where they really come from, everyone here comes from a place of aloha.”
Dennis Boyd is the director of West Hawaii Small Business Development Center.