Danny Kaaialii

Jo McGarry photo

Partner, Salt Kitchen And Tasting Bar

Where were you born and raised? I was born here in Hawaii but moved to Texas when I was 6. From then on it was winters in Texas and summers on the homestead in Nanakuli.

What started your interest in food and wine? I started working at a restaurant, Jeffries, a really special place in Austin. It had great music and great food. I worked there for eight years and grew to love food and wine. And that’s where I met Quinten, the chef who is now at SALT, and Julian, bar manager.

SALT opened to a lot of buzz and hype and was immediately popular. But you guys still had to work on some aspects of getting it right. Yes, that’s true. So much of the goodwill and enthusiasm has had to do with Kevin (Hanney) and what he’s built with 12th Ave. Grill. But SALT also was an adjustment for some people. We had to make some changes to gain people’s trust.

Right, because for some people, just walking into a place for dinner with no reservations was a new concept. (laughs) Yes, right, so now we take reservations. And having a hostess is huge. That’s made a really big difference.

Are you a great cook? Not great! I try and I’m OK because I’ve been around food a while.

SALT is now mentioned by many people when I ask them their favorite place to eat. Where do you like to go? Gaku it’s amazing. I was there last night. And I love To Thai For it’s in our neighborhood (Kaimuki) and they do great food. And, of course, Town.

With whom would you most like to have dinner at SALT? I know it sounds a bit clich√©, but probably my mom and my dad both of them together. My mom comes to the restaurant quite a bit, but my dad lives in Nanakuli and it’s kind of hard to get him away from the homestead (laughs).

What’s always in your fridge? Beer, almond milk, really good chocolate.

Most memorable glass of wine? Anything I drank with my late grandmother. Great wine is nice, but who you enjoy it with is more important.