Nestled amid old monkeypod trees and lush greenery in Manoa Valley on Oahu, the historic Waioli Tea Room, which opened in 1922, had been serving finger sandwiches and fragrant teas in pretty china until it closed four years ago. The beautiful restaurant, with its lava-rock fireplace and garden views, sat empty.
But, late last November, a new tenant quietly opened here, serving a small menu of breakfast classics and freshly baked pastries. The only way people heard about it—including me—was seeing red feather flags on the side of Manoa Road, alerting the neighborhood that Waioli Kitchen & Bake Shop was open.
Owners Ross and Stefanie Anderson took over the space, owned by the Salvation Army. (It was added to the National Register of Historic Places listing on Oahu in 1998.) They decided on a small menu—just a few sandwiches, salads and pastries—and not just to keep it simple. The couple decided to pay homage to the history of this place and the social mission of the Salvation Army by employing people recovering from alcohol and drug abuse in the organization’s rehabilitation programs and inmates from the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua. Most of these workers don’t have any kitchen or restaurant experience, so keeping the menu as uncomplicated as possible made sense.
“We wanted to open a restaurant that had a purpose in the community,” says Ross Anderson, who spent more than 20 years working for Duke’s Waikiki and other TS Restaurants properties.
But don’t confuse “uncomplicated” with “boring.”
The food here is delicious and highlights locally sourced ingredients, from Big Island beef to locally grown veggies. There’s even a small apiary here, with the staff harvesting and packaging small batches of honey by hand. The Andersons have also started a garden at the restaurant, hoping one day it will supply most of their needs.
And execution of these dishes does take skill. Consider the short rib loco moco ($14), a twist on the local favorite with braised Big Island-raised short rib on a bed of rice with two sunny eggs and a decadent demi-glace instead of brown gravy. The meat is fork-tender and the rich brown sauce elevates this simple dish into one you wouldn’t expect at this casual eatery.
The acai bowl ($9.25) is another surprise. The tart acai is tempered by sweet local honey, fresh seasonal fruits and crunchy granola, served in a coconut shell.
And all bread here—from the breakfast sandwich ($7.50) served on a croissant to the cheeseburger ($12) on a challah bun—is made in-house.
And then there are the pastries, baked fresh every morning. The offerings change daily, but I’ve seen almond-chocolate scones, cinnamon rolls, bread pudding and blueberry-lemon muffins. The best-selling pastry by far, though, has been the blueberry-cream-cheese scones, which often sell out in the morning.
For now, the menu will grow slowly, thoughtfully, Ross Anderson says. He wants to add small fruit pies and bring back the curry chicken salad that used to be popular at the old tea room.
And if you miss the old tea room with its tropical-print tablecloths, large windows that open up to the garden outside and shelves full of teapots and other souvenirs, don’t worry. The bungalow-style structure is basically untouched, and the Andersons are honoring the tea room’s past with more than 40 framed black-and-white photos that show the history of the property.
“I see what we’re doing as breathing life into this place,” Anderson says.
2950 Manoa Road, Manoa, open 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays, (808) 744-1619, waiolikitchen.com