Tita’s Grill brings local ‘grindz’ to Hukilau Marketplace

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Starting with a free breakfast for those Polynesian Cultural Center ohana or family members who were working the morning of August 10, one of Laie’s premier Samoan-Hawaiian families opened Tita’s Grill in the Hukilau Markeplace roulotte or food truck court.

 

Laie football and sports legend Junior Ah You, his beautiful wife Almira, and their extended family view their newest location at the PCC as an extension not only of their restaurant across from nearby Kahuku High, where Junior started his illustrious sports career, but also of their “home and hearts,” according to their oldest son, Kingsley Ah You.

 

“We’re ecstatic to have Tita’s Grill up and running at the Hukilau Marketplace,” said Kealii Haverly, PCC Director of In-Center Marketing. “There’s no more local a tenant than Junior Ah You and his family. They are the essence of Koolauloa, and they love the PCC. We’re excited to have them involved.”

 

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(left-right) Kingsley Ah You, PCC President Alfred Grace, Marketplace Supervisor Kahili Soon and PCC Director of In-Center Marketing Kealii Haverly

 

Haverly explained that Tita’s Grill was supposed to be among the first Hukilau Marketplace tenants, “but the arrival of the food truck they were going to use was significantly delayed. Then, when it finally got here, regulatory issues soon led us to reprogram it.” He added the PCC subsequently purchased another food truck locally and drove it to Laie. “It’s been completely outfitted, and now it’s one of two trucks we have that could be moved to other locations, if we chose to do so.”

 

Acting as family spokesman, Kingsley Ah You — a Behavior Health Specialist at Kahuku High when he’s not helping out at either the Kahuku or PCC grill operations, said instead of retiring his parents leased the restaurant and bakery facility across Kamehameha Highway from Kahuku High about five years ago and started up Tita’s Grill. Tita is a Hawaiian-English word that on its surface can mean “sister” or “woman”; in this case, the grill is affectionately named after Almira, the matriarch of the Ah You clan. Junior and Almira had previously been catering for many years and were already well known around Laie for their ability to feed large numbers of people at various community and church functions.

 

“Tita’s Grill in Kahuku is a great location, and we’re very grateful to be there and for all our local customers; but we’re also grateful to now be open at the Hukilau Marketplace,” Ah You continued. “The restaurant business is not easy, but mom and dad always raised us to work hard. Our entire family is involved.”

 

That includes mom and dad; cousins Mele Semo, and Chardene Semo and her mother Fau Semo; sister-in-law Uheina Ah You — “my brother, Quin’s wife”; and also Aunty Rowena Pili Reid and her late husband, Ernie Reid, who have been very supportive of Tita’s Grill.

 

“Mom and dad are always here. I don’t know how they do it and where they get their energy from,” Ah You said. “Dad’s up at 3 in the morning making our signature Polynesian bread. That takes about three hours to do. I help him, plus they close down at night. We usually bake about a hundred loaves of bread a day at our Kahuku site, plus we stometimes bake extra for funerals, group camp-outs and other functions.”

 

Kingsley’s sister, Tamara, and her husband, Leroy Suamataia, also previously ran a Tita’s Grill at a golf resort in Utah, but they have since returned to Laie.

 

“All our family always helps out. We can cater anything anyone wants. Of course, we do Polynesian food, but we’ve also recently done breakfast and dinner for as many as 500 youth who marched in some of the Waikiki parades. We’ve catered luaus with an underground oven and put on shows that involved the whole family, as well as community members.”

 

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Members of the extended Ah You family

 

“Here at the Marketplace, our garlic chicken dish and mango fish have been hot sellers. Shrimp and combo plates are also very popular. Of course, our cocoa-rice and Polynesian bread also sell all day long, and not just to local people. I was speaking to a PCC guest the other day from Utah who said she loved the cocoa-rice and bread.” Fans of the Ah You’s Polynesian bread describe it as more robust, chewier — and it’s especially ono (delicious) when toasted.

 

Feeding lots of people is part of the Ah You family’s Samoan and Hawaiian culture, Kingsley pointed out. “My grandparents, Miki and Mele Ah You, first came from Samoa in the 1950s, to be sealed in the Laie Temple. My grandfather was actually the chef in our family: My father would observe and help him. That’s where dad learned to cook.” Kingsley added that his Hawaiian grandfather was also a good cook, “but just for the Ah Quin family in Hauula. He loved his Hawaiian food and fish.”

 

Junior Ah You was about nine years old when his parents and seven siblings migrated to Laie. An older sister, Ane Ah You Pili, remained in Faleniu, American Samoa. He graduated from Kahuku High in 1969, where “he and mom were high school sweethearts,” Kingsley said. “Both mom and dad— as well as many of the kids — danced at the Polynesian Cultural Center. He did the fire knife dance, and mom was a hula dancer. He and my uncles and aunts were also involved in the old Laie Hukilau.”

 


Junior Ah You grew into a superlative athlete at Kahuku High. He earned a full-ride football scholarship at Arizona State University, graduating in 1972. During those years he and Almira would also put on Polynesian shows and luaus throughout the Intermountain West.

 

“He was drafted by the New England Patriots, but decided to go to Montreal where he could continue to play primarily as a defensive end for the Alouettes in the Canadian Football League for nine years. He also played two years after that in the USFL, and retired in 1984,” Kingsley continued, noting that Ah You’s #77 is just one of ten numbers retired by the Alouettes. He was drafted into CFL Hall of Fame in 1997, and is also a member of the Arizona State and Hawaii Sports Halls of Fame.

 

 

“Three years he returned to his alma mater where his name now hangs in the ASU Sun Devil Stadium Ring of Honor. It’s a great honor for a Samoan Laie boy.”

 

“We have a family saying: Ah You hungry?” Kingsley said. “Wherever we’ve been, we always use our culture of cooking and feeding people as a way to gather people. For example, when dad played football in Canada he volunteered to put on many Latter-day Saint chapel fundraisers. He would have his teammates come out, and thousands of people would come. He continues to do that same kind of thing today as a community effort in Laie.”

 

“The Hukilau Marketplace is beautiful,” Kingsley added. “We’re grateful for all those who assisted us to open. It’s just like when we invite people to our home, we share our aloha through our food. That’s mom and dad’s philosophy all along, continuing with Tita’s Grill. That’s why we’re so grateful to be at the PCC. Stop by and say aloha.”

 

Tita’s Grill is open Monday-Saturday at the Hukilau Marketplace for breakfast from 7-9 a.m., and otherwise from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Kahuku restaurant is open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 

Story and images by Mike Foley

 

mike_foley

Mike Foley, who has worked off-and-on

at the Polynesian Cultural Center since

1968,  has been a full-time freelance

writer and digital media specialist since

2002, and had a long career in marketing

communications and PR before that. He

learned to speak fluent Samoan as a

Mormon missionary before moving to Laie

in 1967 — still does, and he has traveled

extensively over the years throughout

Polynesia and other Pacific islands. Foley

is mostly retired now, but continues to

contribute to various PCC and other media.

 

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