Holo i‘a ka papa, kau ‘ia e ka manu. Where there is food, people gather. — Hawaiian proverb
New York has Mario Batali’s Eataly and Todd English’s Plaza Marketplace. Washington, D.C., has Union Market. San Francisco has the Ferry Building Marketplace. And now Honolulu has Foodland Farms Ala Moana.
All are exciting representations of a culinary trend that is sweeping the nation from coast to coast. It is called the food hall.
No, not food court. That’s so yesterday.
Food halls are artisanal food and beverage marketplaces. It is a new kind of shopping and dining destination that showcases local food vendors and artisans. Like its early European counterpart, the American food hall offers a convenient and stylish way to shop and eat-in by combining prepared foods, artisan products and communal dining under one roof.
Mainstream groceries, known in the industry as center aisle or shelf-stable items, also are offered with an expanded selection of health and beauty natural products.
The term for this modern retail concept is “grocerant,” grocery store plus restaurant. You know, like Brangelina (also so yesterday.)
The opportunity to design a grocerant in Hawaii came as kamaaina grocer Foodland was lured back to Ala Moana Center after closing its street level-mauka location near the post office in 2014.
At the time, Foodland decided not to renew its lease after 55 years at Hawaii’s largest shopping mall, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
“We didn’t expect to be back,” says Jenai S.Wall, chairwoman-CEO of Foodland Super Market Ltd.
But today (Aug. 31) is a new day.
AHH, ALA MOANA
It marks the celebrated homecoming of Hawaii’s largest locally owned grocery retailer to Ala Moana Center. The 47,395-square-foot store is in the center’s ewa expansion, beneath the new Nordstrom. It is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., with plenty of adjacent parking.
“We are excited to be returning to Ala Moana, where Foodland was an original tenant at the center’s opening in 1959,” says Wall. “Our team has dedicated the last year to creating a new store that is not only bigger and better than ever, but also offers customers a whole new grocery experience celebrating the great food and tastes we love here in Hawaii.”
The flagship store is Foodland’s 33rd location and sustains a family business tradition started in 1948 by Wall’s father, the late Maurice J. “Sully” Sullivan, who opened Hawaii’s first supermarket.
Today the chain has 2,500 employees, 125 of them at Foodland Farms Ala Moana. This includes store director Brandy Pacheco, who rose to top management from an office clerk post 18 years ago at Foodland Hilo.
“There are more employees here than our typical store,” Wall points out. “It reflects the service-oriented requirements of expanded prepared food fare.”
The store includes a 3,200-square-foot kitchen, where chef Brian Nagai, pastry chef Rick Chang and their staff work culinary magic every day.
AHH, THE AMBIANCE
Foodland corporate chef Keoni Chang says, “We take the best attributes that touch our five senses and combine them with our Foodland philosophy and sensibility to bring customers an exciting food and culinary destination.”
An inspired floor plan and interior design come from experts at Schweitzer Group of Italy, internationally renowned retail space planners. Local general contractor is AC Kobayashi of Waipahu.
Although the new Foodland is three times the size of its former site, contemporary design elements and efficient floor space make the massive store seem comfortably intimate to shoppers.
There are 100 seats for dining along the windows. Five cashier stations and seven express stands speed shoppers to checkout. Express checkout is served by a single line, like in banks.
“We have created something that has many uses, not just a supermarket model,” explains Chang, now in his 11th year at Foodland corporate.
“We took a quantum leap,” he admits. “But it is our hope that people will still recognize and relate to it as familiar Foodland.”
AHH THE SERVICE
There is even a concierge, another throw-back to European tradition and now a modern feature of retail operations. But at a supermarket?
Hey, why not? With so much going on in the reinvented supermarket-to-food-hall model, customers need a well-versed store ambassador to facilitate directions, product information and deliveries to the car.
Foodland Farms Ala Moana has a will-call desk where one can have grocery purchases held while shopping elsewhere at the mall. Designated parking spaces are reserved for pickup.
You get the idea.
Foodland Farms Ala Moana wants to be the ultimate grocerant and go-to choice for today’s busy and facetious consumer, especially burgeoning millennials (age 16-35) who make up the largest generation in the nation’s workforce.
Foodland has years of local market experience to support its business model. Innovation always has been its hallmark, built on a philosophical Sully axiom that advises, “Treat customers well and they will come back.”
Island-inspired wall graphics herald proverbs, such as “‘Ono kahi ‘ao lu‘au me ke aloha pu.” (Even the plainest fare is delicious when there is love.)
With specialties suited to the Pacific palate, shoppers can explore diverse food stations arranged on the perimeter of the store. It’s a circle of culinary delights.
“Customers want authenticity,” Wall says. “They want the story behind the food. We are catering to this emerging culinary sophistication.”
Just as renowned chefs Batali and Anthony Bourdain have branded food halls in major Mainland cities, Foodland hopes to differentiate itself from the competition.
“Competition is good,” Wall asserts. “It raises the bar and because we are local, family-owned and relatively small in size, we can do things that other grocers can’t.
“Above all, we want to represent Hawaii well,” she says.
AHH, THE ACCOLADES
Well, the inspired goddess of grocerant is delivering on that promise in her latest iteration of the modern supermarket. Foodland Farms Ala Moana is turning heads.
Now for the main course. No doubt we’ve worked up your appetite for more. Tasting is believing.
Here’s our top 10 choices for food fabulosity at Foodland Farms Ala Moana:
1) Plenty of poke. A dedicated poke counter has more than 20 varieties of this Hawaii delicacy, such as spicy ahi poke, California roll poke, and truffle ahi. Get it by the pound, over rice in a poke bowl or hand-held in a poke roll.
2) Grilled meats. An in-store Spanish-style flattop grill serves up Hawaii-style barbecue chicken, teriyaki pork and shrimp skewers, plated on beds of fried saimin, Korean chap chae or Thai papaya salad.
3) Portuguese sausage meatloaf. Multicultural local eats at the hot food bar includes Puerto Rican pernil roast pork, pastele stew, char siu pork and choy sum, kalua pork and kale, kimchee or ginger chicken fried rice, and Filipino crispy pork belly kawali.
4) Fried chicken, pizza, rotisserie, sandwiches and salads. Try Japanese karaage and mochiko chicken alongside country-style and buttermilk fried chicken. Shake-and-take seasonings will spice up your selection. Thin crust, Naples-style pizzas with local toppings. Hulihuli and pulehu-style rotisserie chicken, roasted turkey drumstick, guava barbecue kalua pork.
5) Cool stuff. Shave ice with more than 20 natural-flavored syrups including li hing mui and Melona, plus unique dessert combinations. Juice bar has selection of smoothies, grab-and-go juices, and on-tap kombucha (fermented sweet tea).
6) Must-have musubi. Get classic Spam, hot dog and chicken katsu musubi plus new Korean bulgogi, Chinese char siu pork and lemongrass chicken. Grab more than 20 varieties of Japanese bento and lunch-time favorites like karaage chicken, shoyu pork belly and misoyaki salmon.
7) Delectable doughnuts. An automatic machine plunks out warm, freshly made doughnuts at an action station. Take home a box of banana macadamia nut, strawberry guava, or pineapple coconut cake doughnuts. Bakery also has azuki bean haupia bear claws; Portuguese sausage, egg and Cheddar croissants; and Filipino ensemadas.
8) Smoke ’em. HI Steaks, local-style steak plate and meat counter, features an in-house smoker and grill that fires up kiaweand guava-wood smoked chicken, pork, burgers, steak and pipikaula.
9) Good to grill. Try house-cased Portuguese or kimchee sausages, grass-fed local beef, marinated meats and stir-fry ingredients, stuffed burgers, oysters on the half shell, Calabrese sausages and Cajun-style marinated meats.
10) Wine and craft beers. R. Field Wine Co. pours cu-rated wines by-the-glass and on-tap craft beers at The Bar. It also offers artisanal cheese, charcuterie meats, paté and cornichons (pickled gherkin). Smoked ahi spread on lavosh, anyone?
Now that we’ve raised your expectations of the modern supermarket and introduced you to the dynamic dimension of food halls like Foodland Farms, there’s no going back.
Follow the yellow brick road to Ala Moana and visit the wizard of ahhs. You’re not in yesterday anymore.