Happy First Birthday, Kalapaki Joe’s Po‘ipu

Jody and Erika Valente, owners of Kalapaki Joe’s. Photos by Robin Jumper

Only open for a year, Kalapaki Joe’s in Po’ipu has already become a popular hangout for the local crowd

It’s been a year since Kalapaki Joe’s expanded from Kalapaki Beach and opened up another spot in Po’ipu, and business owner Jody Valente couldn’t be happier.

“The business in Po’ipu Beach is going strong,” Valente says. “We came out of the gate much better than we anticipated – it is consistently getting better as the word gets out.”

Kalapaki Joe’s (in Kalapaki) has been thriving for nearly four years, and coupled with the one-year anniversary of the Po’ipu location, that means it’s time to celebrate, and the public is invited. The Po’ipu restaurant’s anniversary party starts at 6 p.m. June 12, when Molokai reggae artist Sashamon will provide the entertainment.

Valente and his wife, Erika, who run both businesses (Erika is the restaurants’ business development director) dated in high school (she went to Kaua’i High School and he went to Waimea High School) and then reunited in 1995. They have four children. The Valentes lived on the Mainland for a while, but they missed the Garden Island and returned here in 2008.

“I had a passion wanting to get back to the island,” says Valente, who was born and raised on the West side. “I grew up here. That’s the bottom line. Kaua’i has an energy, calmness and beauty, and a deep culture that’s very important to me.”

And though Po’ipu is home to many of the island’s visitors, Valente is pleased that many of Kalapaki Joe’s regulars are locals.

Kalapaki Joe’s Po‘ipu is a hub for UFC fighters, yet caters to families as well

“We are doing probably about a 70/30 percent split of locals and tourists,” he says. “Usually in a touristy area every one caters to tourists, but we try to cater 100 percent to locals.”

One way the sports bar and grill does that is by aiming to be as family friendly as a bar can be.

The Po’ipu location boasts a 16-by-8-foot dry-erase board that had originally been intended for tracking betting odds, but when it was unveiled, another potential use for it came to fruition.

“The kids went over to it and started drawing on it,” Valente says. “So now it is a keiki art board.”

Located where the Po’ipu Beach Broiler used to be, the restaurant has dominated the South side sports bar market, not only by capitalizing on the island’s obsession with mixed martial arts, but by offering everything from UFC matchups to boxing and football (and any other pay-per-view sports event imaginable).

“We’re a sponsor within the UFC, as well a sponsor of multiple world-class fighters,” Valente says, noting fighters such as Diego Sanchez, Demian Maia, Nate Marquardt, Brandon Schaub and Chris Lytle, to name a few, have made appearances and signed autographs for patrons.

“We’re kind of used as a hub for a lot of UFC fighters and provide them a place to come to relax in Hawaii,” Valente says. “We have a really good relationship with them.”

An example of that relationship was demonstrated during the 2011 college football championship game between Auburn Tigers and Oregon Ducks, when the host of UFC Ultimate Insider Celeste paid a visit Jan. 10. Valente has been building relationships with big names like Celeste over the past 10 years, stemming from when he worked for six years as a general manager and executive chef at Coyotes Sports Bar and Grill in Nevada.

UFC fighter Diego Sanchez, Jody Valente and UFC coach Bart Lujan at Kalapaki Joe's

In addition to courting UFC fighters, Valente also lends a hand to community events. The restaurant donated all the food – chili, hot dogs and drinks – for Kalaheo Elementary production of Beauty and the Beast, which opened April 28, helping the drama clun break its previous sales record. It also is a Surfrider Foundation sponsor for the Maha’ulepu Beach cleanup efforts, and helped out with the recent Kaua’i World Challenge, this year’s OC1 man relay race from Wailus to Port Allen – Which brought in huge swells as well as some 300 hungry paddlers.

“We provided all the food,” Valente says, which included seafood pasta, chicken stir-fry, salad and rice.

Valente, who took classes in the culinary arts program at Kaua’i Community College in 1999, says he also took business course at Santa Monica College in California and is currently enrolled in the UC-Berkeley online marketing program, which will likely come in handy, as he and his wife hope to further grow their business.

“We’re in the market looking at expanding again here shortly,” Valente says, something thanks to his loyal customers.

“I think expanding has helped with branding, and people have that security when they come here, knowing our name and recognize it as an establishment that stems from success,” he says. “The success of Kalapaki Joe’s in Kalapaki (Beach) definitely helped the Po’ipu restaurant.”

Valente says primarily he’d like to branch out to ‘Ele’ele, Waimea or Kapa’a and, though longer-term, he’s eyeing the Big Island, where he thinks the Kalapaki Joe’s brand will translate well.

“Kona to me is a lot like Kaua’i,” he says. “We need to grow not in a place like O’ahu, but in a place that has that small-town feel that Knoa has.”

As for what that brand is? In Valente’s opinion, it’s defined with term not everyone hears every day:”garage ambiance.”

“I think that my main idea of what I wanted to create was a garage-style atmosphere,” he says. “Everyone on Kaua’i parties in their garage. (Kalapaki Joe’s) is a bar where you can hand out, eat, watch TV and sports for a good time and be treated like friends and not customers.”

As unusual as that idea might sound, Valente says it has worked well for both locations so far.

“It’s definitely exceeded my expectations,” he says. “I never anticipated the restaurant to do this well.”