Poni Askew

Jo McGarry photo

Founder and CEO, Street Grindz

Where were you born and raised? Born in Waialua, and then my family moved to the big city of Wahiawa. After I graduated I moved to Nashville for 16 years.

Did you move because of the food? No (laughs), I moved because of music. I originally worked in the music industry in Nashville – it was young and hip and lots of fun. But then I fell in love with, and became obsessed by popsicles (laughs). There was this tiny store, Las Paletas, where the ladies made Mexican popsicles that were so incredible – so I studied them seriously and intended to open a business back home in Hawaii.

That’s a lot of work, developing a food product line. I did product development for almost two years. In the meantime, I had three children and started working with Starbucks. At some point I realized I wasn’t really crazy about chopping all that fruit. But it did get me passionate about street food.

So that’s what led you to the food movement in Hawaii? Yes. So we’ve always had this amazing food culture of food trucks, of course, but the difficult thing was getting people to appreciate the value of promoting themselves. The first Eat the Street event there were 700 people and they all brought a friend!

What’s exciting on the street food scene right now? Some of the most exciting things are actually happening in tents and at markets, not in trucks. There’s this young couple handmaking marshmallows and mochi. They have this one dish, chocolate mochi squares layered with whipped cream, chocolate and strawberries. They also do a chocolate truffle wrapped in mochi. And they make marshmallow ‘smores. You can eat a dulce de leche marshmallow as a ‘smore! The street scene is about taking food and making it fun and playful.

What’s a food of the future that you’d like to see in Hawaii? A loco moco truck.

There isn’t one? No. Amazing, isn’t it? There should be someone who specializes … Imagine this: You choose a starch, choose a gravy … you could have Vietnamese noodles with a curry stew on top and an egg. That’s still a loco moco, right?

Oh, that’s such a great idea. Someone is going to read this now and go and do that. I hope so! (laughs)

With whom would you most like to have dinner? Howard Schulz, founder and CEO of Starbucks. His book came out when I was an employee of Starbucks, and he really encouraged people to pursue their dreams. It would be fun to have his perspective on what we’re doing. His vision was always to support an entrepreneurial spirit.