Winter in Wisconsin is no Hawaiian luau but thanks to Ono Kine Grindz, a new grocery store and deli counter in Wauwatosa specializing in food and drink from the 50th state, you can eat like it is.
Wisconsin native Guy Roeseler, who lived for more than a decade in Hawaii, and David Lau, who was born and raised on the island of Oahu, opened the store in September after moving to Milwaukee and struggling to find the island foods they missed from home.
"When we got back we couldn't find any of the cool food that I'd gotten used to and that David grew up with," Roeseler said.
The brightly lit store at 7215 W. North Ave. -- the name roughly translates to delicious specialty food -- is filled with colorfully packaged foods and beverages of all kinds like: Kona coffee, Portuguese Sausage, gourmet sugars and natural sea salts, candies and spices, as well as Hawaiian shirts and music.
Delicious scents from the daily lunch specials featuring island staples like the smoked and pulled Kalua pork -- a Hawaiian plate lunch starts at an affordable $4.75 -- drift through the store demanding a taste, with Hawaiian coffee drinks, fresh juices and smoothies available to wash it all down.
Roeseler and Lau both worked extensively in food service and while opening the store was a natural step, it was not necessarily an easy one. With no central Hawaiian food distributor to order from, they started seeking out items piecemeal, slowing building up the store with all the items they'd loved and missed from Hawaii.
"It's a process to get stuff. I have people in Vegas, people in California, people in Hawaii, and that's kind of how we get everything," Roeseler said.
Business has been good with a mix of curious neighbors and lots of repeat visits from displaced Hawaiians living in and around Milwaukee.
"It's amazing how many people have Hawaiian roots that live in Milwaukee," Lau said.
"That was a really nice surprise that we had sort of a built in clientele," added Roeseler, "We expected we'd kind of have to educate people."
With no major Hawaiian grocer here or in Chicago before Ono Kine Grindz, people seeking Hawaiian food would often have to wait for trips back home to load up.
"You end up loading up suitcases whenever you fly back to visit family, which now has gotten really expensive with the airlines, or you end up flying stuff in," Roeseler said.
The store is filled with all the tools, and ingredients necessary to make most traditional Hawaiian foods. And a healthy selection of cook books are for sale for people looking to explore Hawaiian cuisine for the first time, Lau said.
"We provide all the ingredients to everything we make here, so we really want you to go home and try to cook it yourself," Lau said.
Lau said he appreciates how the local Hawaiian community has embraced the store, and is happy to bring a piece of home to Wisconsin to share with everyone.
"What it really is, is that we all cannot afford to be homesick for Hawaii, because the winters we need to buckle down and make it through 8 degree temperatures. We can't afford to miss the beach," said Lau.
"But coming here for 10 minutes, or 30 minutes we recognize the brands that we grew up with, that we're not alone. So it's very comforting."