The Vertical Junkies—the party-and-promotions group—are turning into restaurateurs. First they teamed up with former Nobu pastry chef Alejandro Briceño to create V Lounge Pizza in 2009, and now they’re poised to conquer Kane‘ohe. Vertical Junkies founder Russ Inouye has a vision for his hometown. When it comes to food, “Kaneohe has the money and the knowledge, but there isn’t anything here,” says Inouye, who founded VJ as a surf-n-snow clothing company. (The partners have now splintered off with their own projects—Inouye sold his shares in V Lounge, but they’re still one big, smiling family.)
So he secured the DLNR lease to the little shack at the end of He‘eia Pier (a two-year process), where for 30 years the Choy family sold plate lunches, beer and bait. “This is the perfect flagship,” says Inouye, who fished off the pier as a boy.
The gang gutted the kitchen (often with people from the community pitching in), and installed fancy new equipment and chef Mark Noguchi, a CIA graduate and alum of Town and Chef Mavro.
Opened in April, He‘eia Pier General Store & Deli was in immediate hit, with sleek, sandbar-bound bunnies and Uncle Ernie fishermen types alike. Noguchi mixes plate lunch classics like hamburger steak with innovative creations such as his lemongrass burger (available as a special only—the high price of lemongrass makes it too costly to have on the regular menu. Wah!). And the catch of the day may be the freshest on the island—the boats are coming in all the time. And if the day is a big fail for fishermen, that means no fish from the General Store, cause that’s how serious Noguchi is about the word “fresh.”
Inouye, 37, sees the “deli” as a community hangout. He cites the growing cluster of eateries in Kailua and adds, “We can do our part on this side, and keep things as local as possible.” Which means getting ingredients directly from East Side farmers and fishermen, from the Otsujis in Hawai‘i Kai to the Reppuns in Kahalu‘u.
Eventually he’d like to “branch off and do higher-end places.” He’s thinking small-plates-and-wine. But right now, sitting on the pier, the nightlife-guy-turned-dad doesn’t want to be anywhere else. “I want to dedicate 35 years to this.” (Read my post about the spot’s blessing/opening at Honolulu Magazine.)