Fast, Healthy And Family-owned

My body loves food that makes me feel nourished and energized, instead of sick and tired. And when it’s served quickly, I like it! The staff at Papaya’s Natural Foods and Cafe in Kapaa also eliminates dietary concerns. Reduced fat, salt and/or sugar, minimally processed, non-GMO, animals raised under humane conditions, antibiotic-free, pesticide-free, lactose-free, gluten-free, vegans, vegetarians and food-a-tarians are all carefully considered before a meal is prepared in the grocery store’s small cafe.

Today, the family-run business includes sons Zeb and Eli and daughter Sequoia.

In 1991, Papaya’s opened as a gourmet store selling wine, cheese and specialty products. When Jessica Leech and her ex-husband Lenny Kritchman bought the place in 1998, they turned it into something that did not exist on the island – a health food store.

“People think hippies are the only customers who shop at Papaya’s, but all types of professionals come here,” says Leech. “With startling rates of obesity and disease, plus environmental concerns, everyone can benefit from making a simple change in their life.”

Papaya’s had to sell papayas. But GMO-free advocates eliminate them from their diet because most Hawaiian papayas have been genetically modified to resist papaya ringspot virus. Cross-contamination with organic papayas does happen, so Leech has local farmers send leaf samples to the University of Hawaii for testing. If they come back clean, they get put in the produce section along with a wide variety of local and/or organic produce.

“At least 80 percent of all processed food contains some form of genetically modified corn, soy or canola oil,” says Leech. “We evaluate our products with a fine-tooth comb and buy local, organic and GMO-Free Verified first, but customer demand drives what we keep on our shelves.”

At the café, a salad bar is loaded with 32 local and/or organic items, such as produce, tofu, beans and five flavors of dressing. A hot bar offers marinated and grilled tofu, brown rice, sesame onion tofu sauce, soup of the day, tofu musubi with brown rice and furikake ($2.99) and breakfast burritos. Both the salad and hot bar are vegetarian and cost $7.99 a pound.

“These are excellent choices for customers who may be unfamiliar with quinoa, tempeh or brown rice,” says Leech. “Some people want to switch from white rice to brown, but aren’t sure. They can try it cooked and then buy a small amount from our bulk section to take home and experiment with.”

Coconuts can be bought in the produce section and cracked open at the café, which also serves fresh juice and noni or wheatgrass shots. Smoothies include my favorite, Chai Chai Chia ($7.99) with local bananas, Tipu’s micro ground chai tea (also available in bags of loose tea), chia seeds, coconut milk, SPIRU-TEIN protein powder and your choice of soy or rice milk. This smoothie is so filling, delicious and full of caffeine, it makes a wonderful lunch or afternoon pick-me-up.

Meals include popular fish tacos on organic corn or flour tortillas ($5.49) with vegetable slaw, cilantro cream or chipotle aioli (mayonnaise). Nori is placed on a flour tortilla on the Blackened Fish Nori Wrap ($10.99) along with a thick layer of brown rice. Lettuce and tomatoes curl around fresh fish coated with Cajun seasoning.

A handmade taro and brown rice patty ($8.99), served on a whole wheat bun made by Passion Bakery in Kapaa, comes with lettuce, chipotle aioli and pineapple slaw. Chunks of taro, a soft bun and spicy yet smoky chipotle aioli make it a delicious, filling meal.

Considering the high cost of organic products, some of which are imported, Papaya’s strives to offer reasonable prices. Since whole foods contain plenty of fiber and water, they are nutritious, filling meals that easily fit into a quick lunch or dinner budget.

Papaya’s Natural Foods & Cafe
Monday- Saturday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Marta Lane is a Kauai-based food writer. For more information, visit