It’s Your Jam
Spam lovers, rejoice! The annual Waikīkī Spam Jam Festival is back in full force this year to celebrate the ever-delicious local staple.
It’s simple, yet delicious. It’s a Hawai‘i favorite that can be enjoyed during breakfast, lunch or dinner.
It’s Spam, and this local staple will be the focus of a block party that everyone has been waiting for: the 19th annual Waikīkī Spam Jam Festival.
From 4 to 10 p.m. on April 29, Kalākaua Avenue — and specifically the stretch between Seaside and Liliu‘okalani avenues — will be transformed into something both delicious and electrifying, lined with numerous food and retail booths, and entertainment stages as well.
While the pandemic prevented the block party from taking place the last few years, folks behind the scenes are eager to make up for lost time.
“I’m just so excited to bring this back and just can’t wait to be out there on the streets, watching everybody enjoy themselves,” says event co-founder Barbara Campbell. “Come down, enjoy some music underneath the stars and just enjoy all these creative dishes.”
Guests are invited to discover unique meals that have been elevated with the processed meat such as Spam pad thai, Spam fried rice, Spam katsu sandwiches and, of course, Spam musubi.
Participating restaurants include Duke’s Waikīkī, Hula Grill, Maui Brewing Co. and L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.
“I feel like it’s so deeply rooted in our culture,” says Campbell of the luncheon meat, noting that Hawai‘i is the largest consumer of Spam in the country. “I think seven million cans of Spam are sold every year in our state.”
The festival celebrates all things Spam and challenges its participating restaurants to incorporate the product in a fun way. Campbell is particularly looking forward to enjoying Spam tacos and Spam pizza.
“Some of the chefs just surprise us with different dishes, too,” she says. “We actually make sure that we have a really good assortment so it’s not a lot of the same things. It’ll be a really great variety.”
Hawai‘i’s love for Spam is nothing new. Hormel Foods launched the product in 1937. Since then, its popularity within the islands has remained strong with flavors like oven roasted turkey, jalepeño, hickory smoke, hot and spicy, and the classic original flavor.
Spam lovers will be pleased to know that Hormel Foods plans to unveil a new flavor and will even offer tastings at the festival.
“(Spam) is such a versatile item. There’s so many different things you can make with it,” Campbell says. “Spam Jam is a good place to come see how many different ways you can make Spam.”
In addition to ‘ono cuisine, the event will feature more than a dozen retail booths on site, highlighting handmade crafts or retail products. Merchandise tents will also be set up for guests wanting official festival items. Among the promised array of Spam-centric products are the vibrant Spam Jam Festival T-shirt, brand-name hats and an exclusive bag from Eden in Love.
Since no party is complete without some good music, the festival will set up three entertainment stages along Kalākaua Avenue, and feature four to five acts on each stage. From local music to hula hālau, there’s sure to be something for everyone to enjoy.
“It’s a fun-filled evening. The music is phenomenal,” Campbell adds. “It’s great for the family to have some fun.”
Attendees are encouraged to keep an eye out for the Spam Jam Festival’s mascots, also known as the Spammy characters.
“They’re so much fun. The kids love them. The adults love them,” notes Campbell. “The people that don these costumes are animated and having so much fun. I smile from ear to ear when I see the kids getting their picture taken with Spammy.’
As co-founder, Campbell has been heavily involved with the event and its growth since day one. She recalls that the 2019 festival drew between 25,000 and 30,000 attendees. Since Waikīkī is a popular hot spot, Campbell believes the festival can once again hit those numbers this year.
“I continue to be amazed that we’ve developed this festival around Spam that is enjoyed by people around the world,” she says.
Because it’s a large-scale event, the festival requires a lot of planning. But with some help, Camp-bell is able to handle her full-time job at Outrigger Resorts & Hotels all the while planning for the annual showcase.
“We have a great planning committee. We all have such a great time doing it together and it all just falls into place,” explains Campbell. “We gather volunteers from all over the island to help pull it off. So it’s a true community event.”
Not only is the festival put on by the community for the community, but it also gives back to the community. A portion of its proceeds benefit local charities — namely, Hawai‘i Food Bank, Waikīkī Community Center and Visitor Aloha Society of Hawai‘i.
Hawai‘i Food Bank serves as a vital link between food donors and food pantries through feeding programs. With the Spam Jam Festival being food-centric, it’s only fitting that it supports the nonprofit and its vital cause, according to Campbell.
“We know that there’s food poverty among people not only in Waikīkī but all around the island. The Waikīkī Community Center is really the only center of its kind in Waikīkī and it’s really helped our seniors and our keiki,” she says.
“And then, of course, Visitor Aloha Society just does amazing work to help those people navigate the crisis they’ve just went through,” Campbell continues. “Being able to help the Hawai‘i Food Bank, the Waikīkī Community Center and Visitor Aloha Society is like the icing on the cake. The proceeds can all benefit these nonprofit organizations that are helping Hawai‘i.”
Visitors and locals alike are invited to check out the Spam Jam Fesitval and see Waikīkī in a different light. Beyond the good food and entertainment, special parking rates will also be available at certain parking structures.
“It’s like Waikīkī is yours for that night. You can enjoy the open street,” Campbell shares. “It’s our event — it’s for the people of Hawai‘i.”
The Spam fun doesn’t end at the festival. For two weeks after the event — from April 30 through May 14 — the community can continue to indulge in Spam during the festival’s Restaurant Week event, during which eateries throughout Waikīkī highlight special Spam dishes on their menus. Among the participating restaurants are Kelley O’Neil’s, Hideout at the Laylow, Aloha Table, Giovanni Pastrami and Eating House 1849.