story by Rose Kahele
photo by Dana Edmunds
With elegant furniture and walls painted the color of butternut squash, the Grand Café and Bakery has the look and feel of a thoroughly contemporary space—think Pottery Barn meets HGTV. But this place has some history behind it: Opened last year by best friends Mona Chang Vierra and Patsy Izumo, the Chinatown eatery is named after a restaurant that once sat a few blocks away. The original Grand Café was opened in 1923 by Vierra’s grandfather, Ti Chong Ho, who ran the place for a couple years before moving on to other ventures. In that early incarnation, the café specialized in American comfort food—meatloaf, fried chicken, baked goods and confections.
Fast-forward to 2004. On a trip to San Francisco, Vierra and Izumo were bowled over by the sheer number of mid-priced restaurants serving simple American cuisine. They came away from the trip with the realization that, for all its cosmopolitan flair, Hawai‘i’s restaurant scene offered very little in the way of similar options.
“On O‘ahu, if you want to enjoy a good, hearty, American-style breakfast or lunch, you either have to go to places like Liliha Bakery and Zippy’s, or the Halekulani and the Kahala Mandarin,” says Vierra. “There isn’t much in-between.”
Neither Izumo nor Vierra had any experience in the restaurant business—in their day jobs, Izumo serves as director of St. Clement’s School and Vierra as an education specialist with the Department of Education. But they drafted a solid business plan and found a killer location, just two blocks away from downtown Honolulu’s high-rises and across the street from a municipal parking lot. They also hired a couple of ambitious young chefs and—$300,000 and a lot of elbow grease later—the Grand Café & Bakery was (re)born.
While the decor is modern, the menu is a mix of comfort foods both old and new—meatloaf and macaroni and cheese on the one hand; red wine-simmered veal cheeks and grilled salmon with crispy polenta on the other. Somehow it all fits together perfectly.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things have gone,” says Vierra. “From the first day, we got a steady stream of customers and it never stopped.”
Proof that some things just never go out of style.
Grand Cafe and Bakery
31 N. Pauahi St.