21 Years For Hanalei Gourmet

Andie and Tim Kerlin

When Tim Kerlin decided to open a little deli in the old Hanalei School building in 1989, he was turned down for financing by every bank he spoke with.

Thankfully, he didn’t give up. One day he showed his 90-page business plan “budgeted down to the last dime” to Gaylord Wilcox, the owner of the building who was conducting a historic renovation of the schoolhouse complex and creating a shopping area.

“Gaylord hooked me up with his business banker and co-signed my loan,” Kerlin says. Along the way, the little deli expanded to include an airy, casual restaurant on one side and a take-out deli on the other. Hanalei Gourmet opened for business in March 1990 and has been a delightful eatery and gathering place on the North Shore for 21 years.

Kerlin and wife Andie have paid forward their good fortune, providing good food to those who come to Hanalei, and he has provided jobs to more than 200 North Shore residents through the years. “We have a couple people who have been with us for 15 years,” he says. “At our high point, we had 42 people working with us in 2007.

“We home-make everything, just so the quality stays up,” he adds. “That’s labor intensive, but I’d rather employ people in the community.”

He credits perseverance for the success and longevity of the business. “We’ve had a little bit of luck, too, along the way,” he says.

The Reuben is a speciality at Hanalei Gou

He also credits Andie, who does all the accounting. “It takes two,” he says. “I never could have done it without Andie. I would’ve been out of business within a year.”

Though opening their own restaurant was “totally exhilarating,” it was a challenging time for the Kerlins. “We had three babies in three years,” Tim says. “Our daughter Courtney was born in 1988. Our son Adam was born in 1989 and the Gourmet was born in 1990,” he adds, laughing.

The restaurant’s success is its fresh food and comfortable atmosphere where you can come as you are, even straight from the beach, enjoy friendly service, a full bar, watch one of two televisions, possibly encounter friends and eat anything from a healthy salad to a thick, meaty burger with fries.

My boyfriend Lincoln and I began with a sampling of Hanalei Gourmet’s pupus, including the deep-fried artichoke hearts that are so yummy people exclaim about them on the restaurant’s Facebook page. We agree they are delicious, but my favorite is the artichoke dip, a thick and creamy blend of artichoke hearts, garlic and Swiss, jack and Parmesan cheeses. It’s served with delicate slices of a French baguette and breadsticks but, frankly, I was happy just to spoon it into my mouth by itself.

We also enjoyed as appetizers the jumbo coconut shrimp with Asian coleslaw and sweet Thai chili sauce, and pan-fried crab cakes with pineapple aioli.

We decided we had to try Hanalei Gourmet’s Waldorf salad after Kerlin told us that two women once told him they would absolutely beat him up if he ever took it off the menu. “They were serious,” he says, sounding worried. “Big Tim” stands 6-feet-6-inches tall, so you might think he’s exaggerating his concern until you know he’s really just a big teddy bear.

The salad was delicious, with its fresh greens tossed with caramelized walnuts, fresh apple slices, Gorgonzola cheese crumbles and mango vinaigrette dressing. I don’t know that I’d threaten Kerlin with bodily harm if he removed it from the menu, but I would certainly have a stern talk with him. Our half order of the salad was quite filling and reasonably priced at $5.95. We asked our waitress Lisa Thompson how big the full order of the salad is. “We gotta get a wheelbarrow to bring it out,” she says with a knowing smile.

We thought about getting a wheelbarrow to take ourselves out after also enjoying a Reuben sandwich, thick with corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye, with fries, and an order of fish and chips featuring opah (moon-fish). They sometimes use mahimahi in the fish and chips, depending upon what’s available.

Hanalei Gourmet’s menu also features more salads; sandwiches of all types including roasted eggplant and the North Shore Club; fabulous burgers – I recommend the Big Tim’s with everything on it, and someone to roll you home afterward. The dinner menu offers scallops, fresh catch, macadamia nut fried chicken, charbroiled pork chops, pasta and a veggie stir-fry to which you also can add chicken or shrimp.

For dessert, you can order off the menu or visit the takeout/deli side next door for brownies, macaroons, lemon cooler cake and more, most baked fresh daily at the Gourmet and some provided by Lappert’s Ice Cream.

Most of Hanalei Gourmet’s lunch items range in price from $5.95 to $11.95; dinners go up to $26.95 for shrimp scampi.

Hanalei Gourmet as a light and airy feeling

Kerlin, who has a degree in psychology from William and Mary – “a good bartender’s degree” – is glad to have his business in the historic Hanalei schoolhouse. “A lot of kids have walked through this building,” he says. “I tried to save as many historical parts of the building as possible,” including original blackboards that list daily specials.

One year, just before Christmas, Kerlin spotted an older Japanese woman crying outside the restaurant. He asked if there was anything he could do for her. The woman asked if he was the restaurant’s owner. When he answered affirmatively, she got angry at him.

“You turned my first-grade classroom into a bar,” she said bitterly.

“I know,” he said to her. “But it’s still here.” She thought about that for a while and finally smiled.

Kerlin, who still is hands-on, as he says, “24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year except for when we’re closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and for two employee parties,” is thankful he’s been providing good food and employment on Kaua’i’s North Shore for two decades.

“I’ve been in the right place at the right time,” he says. “I’m a lucky guy.”

Hanalei Gourmet is open every day from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Call 826-2524 or go to hanaleigourmet.com.

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