WikiFRESH partners, Jan De Luz, Peter Kubota, and Ian Whitehead have created a restaurant that serves more than great, fresh food. They have cultivated a place that puts community first, donating to local charities and schools. Their "people first" culture is what gives WikiFRESH its edge, and provides a place for the community to gather, eat quality food, and feel welcomed.
We sat down with Jan De Luz to discuss plans for WikiFRESH, business philosophies and inspirations, accomplishments, challenges and more. Read her interview below!
What has your journey been like up to this point, and how did you get to where you are today?
The journey started twenty years ago literally with a dream that could only be realized by the combination of talents and gifts from three partners. Peter Kubota, real estate and business lawyer and third generation Hawai’i islander, Jan De Luz, business, marketing and real estate background with experience in start-ups and fifth generation Hawai’i islander, and Ian Whiteside, former GM of Chipotle, with restaurant operations background. The partners had a vision to serve delicious, quality, locally-sourced ingredients in a consistent manner at a moderate price with an open kitchen, that could handle a large volume of guests efficiently, and each guest could choose every ingredient they wanted or not, served by an inspired team.
You describe your vision for WikiFRESH as, “A people-first culture combined with Tropical Fusion cuisine in a fast-casual environment and the dedication to local charities." What was the inspiration behind this?
The partners believed from the start in “People First” because whatever business you are in, you are only as strong as your team that serves your guests. Being part of our community was part of the plan from the beginning; whether it’s helping the local high school soccer team with travel funds to their state championship on O’ahu island, or Hospice of Hilo, or the cheerleaders needing new uniforms, WikiGIVES was set-up from the beginning to assist.
What is the meaning behind the name?
Wiki in the Hawaiian language is a commonly used word and means “fast or quick”. We knew that our concept would start in Hilo, Hawai’i and wanted part of the name to have a Hawaiian language component and the word “FRESH”. WikiFRESH was born!
What types of challenges have you faced along the way and how did you overcome these?
WikiFRESH renovated a classic Chevrolet Showroom built in the 1950s, (from Chevys to chicken) in a prime location in the heart of Hilo. We enlisted the help of professionals every step of the way and “value engineering” helped greatly. Our thanks to our architect, contractor, and the numerous vendor suppliers, including Stephen Marquard from Bargreen Ellingson - who literally helped us plan and order our entire kitchen! Even with the advantage of numerous talented and experienced people, it still took longer than we had planned.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
To see your dream on paper, then watch it come to life, and hear from our guests that it’s exactly what they’ve been looking for.
Left to right: Jan De Luz, Peter Kubota, Ian Whiteside
Who got you most excited about cooking?
My mother and grandmothers were all great cooks, and being that my family comes from Pa’auilo Mauka (Hamakua coast, about 2500 ft above sea level), it was a rural and remote area. It was realizing that where there is food, families and friends gather and the moments become even more memorable. When I raised my family, we ate home-cooked meals together and invited our large extended friends and family regularly. Now that my children are grown it’s heart-warming to hear their friends say that they loved eating at our dining room table as that was rarely if ever done at home. Cooking is a joy when you know it will be enjoyed by many. In preparation for WikiFRESH, I also attended the Art Institute of Tampa, Culinary Arts program.
What is a favorite comfort dish that reminds you of home?
Our marinated then slow-baked turkey recipe was shared by my son William’s Kindergarten teacher over 20 years ago; which I serve regularly and during the holidays is my personal favorite. The turkey recipe hails from Puerto Rico. Our pork is Mojo style (Cuban), our chicken is a fusion of Asian and Cuban, the beef roast is marinated Mexican barbecue style. With other additions, Tropical Fusion, and all of the protein marinades are comfort foods for my family and me. All made from scratch every day at WikiFRESH.
What is a new ingredient, cooking style or food trend that you are excited about right now?
No freezers and no microwaves mean everything on our menu is fresh. Every ingredient WikiFRESH uses, our crew can pronounce. No additives, minimal use of salt, letting the locally sourced (as much as possible) produce shine on their own. Completely open kitchen. Transparency for our guests to see entire preparation of menu in front of their eyes. BOH is dry storage and dishwashing - everything happens in plain view. Quality ingredients, prepared fresh daily = WikiFRESH.
How do you continue to set yourself apart from the competition?
WikiFRESH is the only true fresh-casual restaurant in Hilo, that starts every morning with making every ingredient that will be available promptly at 10: 30 am until closing seven days a week. WikiFRESH makes it easy for our guests to eat a quality, delicious meal, that is real food every day.
What advice do you have for those looking to start up a new restaurant?
Our partnership worked diligently and intensely on a comprehensive business plan. This plan clarified and enhanced our vision, and gave us a forum to discuss large and small details. There are always challenges, but we’ve never questioned what we wanted, and once we were done with the business plan, our next steps were to put our plan into action.
What continues to motivate or inspire you to create and serve fresh food on the island?
We are the Keiko O Ka Aina (Children of the Land) and it is our honor and responsibility to do our very best for the generation we are in, and future generations. By providing real, quality, food freshly prepared daily, WikiFRESH wants to be a part of our community’s quality lifestyle.
Do you have plans to open more locations in the future?
WikiFRESH is located at 1177 Kilauea Ave. Hilo, Hawaii 96720. Come in and say, aloha!