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Iwilei Eats: The Kona Bean Cafe

Opening recently within Hilo Hattie’s flagship retail store on Nimitz Highway in the Iwilei area (across the street from Zippy’s and City Mill) is the new Kona Bean Cafe, located on the ground floor at the back end (Ewa side) of the store.

According to their flyer, this is how they describe the business:

The Kona Bean Cafe
Your Local Hawaiian Style Cafe Bar
Coffee, Breakfast & Lunch

Now you can satisfy your caffeine fix at our new 3,000 square foot Kona Bean Cafe. Enjoy mouth watering sandwiches, salads and pastries, with Kona Blend Coffee or one of our many Hawaiian made gourmet coffee drinks. Don’t leave without the World Famous, authentic Dole Whip, one of the few places in Honolulu to offer it.
• 10% Kama’aina Cafe Discounts available on drinks and food (please show Hawaii ID)
• Free WiFi internet access
• 3,000 square foot indoor and outdoor cafe
• Sandwiches, salads and pastries
• Gourmet blended hot & cold coffees
• Great variety of tea drinks
• Ono Hawaiian Smoothies
• New Frequent Buyers Coffee Club (Buy 9 get 10th free)
• Plenty of ground and 2nd floor free parking

That all sounds good, so we decided to check it out.

As always, first lets scope out the place, starting with the display case that’s stocked with chilled deli foods and pastries…

Come to find out, all of the made fresh and delivered daily deli foods and pastries offered at The Kona Bean Cafe are currently being outsourced from Panya Bakery.

They also offer a variety of Made in Hawaii specialty food products, including of course, Kona Coffee to go…

As well as these MacaMania Bars and Anahola Granola from the Hawaiian Homestead area on the island of Kauai…

To accompany your gourmet coffee, have some gourmet cookies from Panya Bakery…

Can’t serve premium 100% Kona Coffee without a nice set of designer cups and matching saucers, which are cross-merchandised here from the adjoining retail store…

You can’t enjoy a good cup ‘o joe without a luxurious and peaceful place to lounge in, which The Kona Bean Cafe provides, along with free WiFi access, as is the trend in the biz’…

Their self-serve condiment station needs expanding, where currently it’s limited to packets of mayo’, mustard, sugar, substitute sugar, an unlabeled syrup and fresh cream in a decanter (not shown)…

I’d like to see them add Agave Syrup there. An extravagant suggestion, I know, but hey, gotta’ try! Ever try Agave syrup? Good stuff! Costco currently sells a twin-pack for like $7. Our friend made Karaage Chicken using Agave syrup as the sweetener recently and it was so T-A-S-T-Y! There’s just something so pure about its sweetness. Plus, it sounds “cool”. “JavAgave”.

This is the view of Hilo Hattie’s retail store looking from The Kona Bean Cafe…

Now let’s check out their main menu board, where as you see the focus here is their gourmet coffees, smoothies and teas..

While the highly-sought 100% Kona Coffee is available here in brewed form as well as ground in packages for retail, all of their ‘Island Coffee’ and Espresso offerings on the main menu are prepared using a 10% Kona Coffee blend.

Their exclusive ‘Dole Whip’…

Notice below the sign is a Panini press, as well as a microwave oven on the countertop, which I’ll elaborate (more like rant) more on (the microwave) in a bit.

As mentioned above, The Kona Bean Cafe offers a Frequent Buyers Coffee Club rewards program in the form of a card…

Notice the Hilo Hattie Hibiscus flower logo shape of the stamping.

So Diner E and myself grabbed some lunch from K.B.C. last week, where on this first time visit, as mentioned earlier, we discovered all of Kona Bean Cafe’s deli foods and pastries are currently being outsourced from Panya Bakery. Which we were honestly rather disappointed, as being called a “Cafe”, we were hoping they had a full-fledged in-house food service operation goin’ on. Yet we decided to give it a try anyway, where Diner E went with Kona Bean Cafe’s Panya-sourced Tuna Sandwich…


The Kona Bean Cafe @ Hilo Hattie – Panya Bakery Tuna Sandwich. $4.95

While yours truly decided to try Panya Bakery’s Curry Chicken Sandwich…


The Kona Bean Cafe @ Hilo Hattie – Panya Bakery Curry Chicken Sandwich. $4.95

For dessert, I went with Panya Bakery’s Mixed Fruit Danish Pastry…


The Kona Bean Cafe @ Hilo Hattie – Panya Bakery Mixed Fruit (and custard) Danish Pastry. $2.50

While Diner E grabbed a little “side snack” for in the form of Panya’s Ham ‘n Cheese-filled Danish Pastry…


The Kona Bean Cafe @ Hilo Hattie – Panya Bakery Ham n’ Cheese Danish Pastry. $2.50

How is it? Regarding my Panya-sourced Chicken Curry Sandwich, the execution, presentation, quality of ingredients and size was spot-on, yet it having been sitting in the refrigerator case for who-knows-how-long, it just had that “leftovers” taste to it, mainly because the thick Japanese style bread was stiff and crumbly from the refrigeration. Like sushi rice, nothing is worse than stiff, cold bread. And having paid about $5 for it, I expect better than that. Fresher than that.


The Kona Bean Cafe @ Hilo Hattie – Panya Bakery Curry Chicken Sandwich

On the plus side, the “green style” curry-flavored mayonnaise with small, diced cubes of tenderly-cooked chicken, pickles and cranberries spread in my sandwich was quite tasty and something I’d definitely try to replicate in my own kitchen. The cranberries were especially appreciated for adding a kick of fruitiness to this curry-based party-on-a-bun…err, bread that is. If only the thick-sliced Japanese style bread had been served supple and fresh instead of its stiff and crumbly refrigerated state, this sandwich would have been a real winner. As is, I give it 1 SPAM Musubi, especially considering the also-stiff $4.95 price. Then again, try buying a similar sandwich about the same size right down the street inside the gate at HNL airport, and you’re talking about $8-plus, I kid you not! Just putting things into perspective from a visitor’s standpoint.

Regarding the bread, Diner E felt the same about his Panya-source Tuna Sandwich, also noting there wasn’t anything extraordinary about the tuna spread between it. It was just your regular ‘ole mayo’ ‘n canned tuna, without much “bells ‘n whistles” goin’ on, save for some fresh cracked pepper and the admittedly fresh leaf lettuce and tomatoes in the center…

I dunno, perhaps they should try adding some chopped Macadamia nuts and/or raisins in the tuna spread to jazz it up and give it some interesting extra dimension, like they did with the cranberries in my chicken curry sandwich. Anyhow, Diner E also gives his sandwich 1 SPAM Musubi.

As for Panya’s Mixed Fruit ‘n Custard Danish Pastry, the danish pastry itself buttery-tasty, with a nice flaky texture to it on the crust remiscent of Filo. It also had a thin layer of sugar glaze coating, which was nice. The the fresh, tart-tasting blueberry, strawberry and peaches also complimented really well with the creamy-sweet and velvet-smooth custard. I must say, Panya’s custard is EXCELLENT.

The only problem is they NUKE the pastries to heat it up before serving it, which made  the inside of the pastry dough kinda’ chewy. Diner E complained that his Ham ‘n Cheese Danish was really chewy to the point of being off-putting. Mines wasn’t as chewy as his, yet still worth complaining about, where they should seriously toss that microwave right into Honolulu Harbor (just kidding on that part, but you get the idea) and get themselves a good quality conventional countertop blast convection oven. Especially if all these cold foods they’re serving are going to need reheating. If you’re going to heat up FRESH food, do it RIGHT and use a CONVENTIONAL OVEN. Microwaves are for LEFTOVERS, not fresh-made foods! >>~~end of rant<]

With that, I give Panya’s nuke-reheated Mixed Fruit (and custard) Danish Pastry 2 SPAM Musubi, with potential to be a 5 if reheated properly (or ideally served piping hot ‘n fresh-baked outta’ the oven)!Diner E gives his barely 1 for being TOO chewy.

On a subsequent visit a day later I returned on an early morning solo mission to try The Kona Bean Cafe’s signature item, the COFFEE, going with the ‘Hana Hou Macadamia Nut Latte’ under the ‘Wikiwiki Espresso’ menu section…


The Kona Bean Cafe @ Hilo Hattie – ‘Hana Hou Mac Nut Latte’. $4 “Ali’i” medium size (12 fl. oz.)

Let’s remove the lid and check out the frothed-up milk “head” topping it…

Honestly, I’m not one for “fru-fru” jazzed-up “espresso this, macchiatto that” coffee styles, where, simple cream and sugar in a decent quality coffee blend is fine by me, so I’m not qualified to judge whether this was a good or bad Latte.

All I can say is it remained well-frothed from start to finish, and it had a smooth flavor profile, with just the right amount of dairy and sugar going on, while I still could taste the robust and nutty flavor of the Mac Nut-enhanced Kona coffee. FWIW, 3 SPAM Musubi.

The disposable, eco-friendly Hawaii Coffee Company cup design is pretty cool…

Last but certainly not least is their ‘Dole Whip’, which Celine was so kind to offer me a sample of to try…


The Kona Bean Cafe @ Hilo Hattie – Dole Whip (free sample cup)

Yum! This Dole Whip stuff whips some serious okole! LOVE IT!  It’s essentially a pineapple-flavored soft serve ice cream. Imagine taking Foremost Pineapple Ice Cream and turning into the creamy, sort of gritty yet silky smoothly-thick texture of soft serve and that’s pretty much the gist of it.  She gave me a combination swirl of Vanilla and Pineapple Dole Whip in a little sample cup, and I tell you, it was so delicious, that I wanted a whole friggin’ GALLON of it after sampling just that small taste! So I ended up returning for a large serving!…


The Kona Bean Cafe @ Hilo Hattie – Dole Whip. $3 large size. (half vanilla/half pineapple swirl shown)

The pineapple flavor tastes genuine, not artificial, with a noticeable tang to it. Which is why I like the half vanilla swirl, to add more cream and sweetness to the party, hence that’s what I did for the full monty. All I have to say is the Dole Whip is one cool ‘n tasty soft-serve ice cream treat worthy of 4 or 5 SPAM Musubi! Ask them for a sample. You gotta’ at least try it.

On a final note, I must send out a big HIGH-5! to barista and supervisor, Celine, who provided 200% excellent customer service, along with a good splash of knowledge, humor and fun to the “Kona Bean Cafe” experience on each and every recent visit…


The Kona Bean Cafe Barista and Supervisor, Celine

In celebration of Kona Bean Cafe’s grand opening, they’re offering a FREE cup of Hawaiian Coffee!…

You need Kona Bean Cafe’s clip-out coupon to redeem the free coffee (no purchase necessary), which is good until November 28, 2010, where you can download and print out the PDF of that coupon flyer here.

The Kona Bean Cafe
Hilo Hattie (inside the store on the ground floor on the Ewa end)
700 N. Nimitz Highway
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. (808) 535-6500
www.HiloHattie.com

Business hours:
6am to 7:30pm daily (during the holidays until 11/28/10)

The Tasty Island SPAM Musubi rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)
*2 additional Musubi points added for that AWESOME ‘Dole Whip’, proactive improvements to the operation and excellent customer service!

The Kona Bean Cafe Free Cup of Hawaiian Coffee Coupon Flyer (<—download and print out PDF at that link; effective until November 28, 2010)

P.S. Barista and supervisor, Celine, had read my recent Kona Bean Cafe Yelp review online, taking note of our complaints about the off-putting chewy texture of the nuke-reheated Panya Danish pastries. So she told her bosses about it, suggesting that these pastries should be kept at room temperature, just like how they’re merchandised for immediate sale and consumption at Panya’s flagship bakery shop on Queen Street.

Being akamai (smart) and taking proactive measures, The Kona Bean Cafe now stocks Panya’s made-fresh-daily pastries kept at room temp’ in a covered glass (not plastic) platter set above and outside the refrigerated display case…

Since doing this, Celine claims sales of the pastries have noticeably increased, and she personally says they taste much better, without any of the nuke-induced chewy texture we complained about. Maika’i! For that proactive measure to make the business (the food) better based on customer feedback, along with the additional star I’ve added for the excellent Dole Whip, I’m also adding one more SPAM Musubi point! Score!

6 thoughts on “Iwilei Eats: The Kona Bean Cafe

  • November 13, 2010 at 5:42 am
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    Pomai, well it nice set up will try it when around that area. Itl seem to remind me of a upscale 7-11 store still withl the ready made food. I still like it for you can shop and dine in one place.

    Reply
  • November 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm
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    Pomai, not sure it the place locals will go to for thing. Mainly tourists would find it interesting and stop by for some food and drinks.

    Reply
  • November 15, 2010 at 4:33 am
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    If only Starbucks would stop refrigerating their pastries.

    Reply
  • November 15, 2010 at 10:47 am
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    Cool! I always wanted to try Dole Whip, but didn’t want to make a trip to the Dole Plantation for it.

    So I can take the free Hilo Hattie shuttle from Waikiki (not so free once you tip the driver, but what can you do?), have lunch at Zippy’s or Sam Choy BLC, then get Dole Whip for dessert!

    Reply
  • January 15, 2011 at 2:16 pm
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    There are no Starbucks around that area, where I normally go to kill time by surfing the internet. So it’s great to find this new cafe!

    Reply

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