Native Intelligence: Hawai‘i Island

Cuts Above

Story by Meghan Miner Murray. Photos by Ronit Fahl.

On a Monday evening, ten Kona residents sit facing cases of dry-aged local beef. Repeat customers and friends, they’re here at Kona Butcher Shop to watch Frank Kramm transform a 350-pound, Hilo-raised hog into pork chops, spareribs, tenderloin and ham.

When the shop opened last May, “it had been nineteen years since Kona last had a dedicated butchery,” says Kramm, who was born and raised in Kona. When Kramm met co-owner Connor Butler, then a relative newcomer from British Columbia, through connections in the restaurant industry where they worked as chefs, they shared a concern over the “culinary disconnect in Kona,” Kramm says. “There’s a channel for fine ingredients for restaurants, but going home, feeding a family—that’s a different story.” Butler agrees: “There are around 140 farms, 98 ranches and 90,000 head of cattle in the Islands,” he says. “The good stuff is here, it’s just all helter-skelter.”

The butcher shop, long a small-town institution, has been largely eclipsed by supermarkets and is experiencing a nationwide revival. Kona Butcher Shop is the second one to open on Hawai‘i Island in less than a year, and its location is almost a metaphor for America’s changing food tastes: It was a Domino’s Pizza for two decades. Inside you’ll find a blend of hard-to-find (in Hawai‘i) ingredients like Spanish jamón ibérico and tinned Québec poutine as well as local products: Waimea strawberries, Ni‘ihau lamb, Hōnaunau rabbit. But Kramm and Butler hope Kona Butcher Shop will be more than a store: They imagine it like a salon for gourmets, a place where producers and consumers can commune to share their delight in fine food. Events and workshops—like the hog butchery class—are an important part of that.

While Kramm explains which knives work best and how much fat to retain on each cut, Butler quietly transforms the cuts into tapas on the shop’s gas range. He passes out plates of tiny biscuits and sausage, prosciutto-topped ragout of Hāmākua-grown oyster mushrooms and apple cider smoked ham over beets and local liliko‘i mustard. It’s everything pork can be, and the plates are clean within seconds.