By Amy Watkins <i>For HBJ</i>
EVERETT — A warm ‘Aloha’ greeting can be heard when someone walks through the door of Kama’aina Grindz.
Hawaiian artwork decorates the red brick walls of the small restaurant. Customers scattered at a dozen tables peruse the menu options.
“You have to try the mahi-mahi fish tacos,” one diner suggests to another seated at a different table. “You’ll want to lick the plate.”
Chef and owner Dean Shinagawa is busy cooking in his open kitchen. Orders of Volcano Seared ahi tuna salad, Hawaiian-style ahi Poke, and the huli huli chicken breast sandwich are just a few of the different Hawaiian and Asian-infused menu selections.
Shinagawa, who grew up in Oahu, Hawaii, has always wanted to open his own restaurant. His longtime goal was accomplished on Feb. 4, 2013, when he officially opened Kama’aina Grindz at 2933 Colby Ave.
“Every chef wants to open their own place to express their culinary artistry or passion but it’s not easy. It’s time and it’s money,” said Shinagawa, 48.
Shinagawa moved to Seattle in 1995 after spending a year in Saskatchewan, Canada, where he completed a culinary exchange between the American Culinary Federation and Canadian Federation of Chefs and Cooks. He was a sous chef of Piatti Restaurant in Seattle before spending six years at Roy’s Seattle as a line cook and a chef. From there, he spent a year as a sous chef at Seattle’s Edgewater Hotel and then moved on to become the chef and general manager of Tulalip Bay Restaurant at the Tulalip Casino.
“I thought, ‘What else can I do?’ I didn’t want to work at another hotel and be a sous chef there,” he said. “That wasn’t my forte or passion.”
Shinagawa and his wife, Rachel, spent about two years looking for the right spot to open the restaurant. The place they found in Everett was cozy but big enough to find out if what he wanted to create would work out, Shinagawa said.
He chose the name Kama’aina Grindz to reflect his interpretation of the food he grew up eating and wished to share. Kama means ‘child’ and aina means ‘land.’ Grindz is a Hawaiian term for ‘eat,’ explained Shinagawa.
“When I’m back home, I’m a child of the land,” he said. “(The name) is fun, Hawaiian, and reflects me and my local boy style.”
Shinagawa said he does his best to make dishes that are unique but he gravitates toward simple food. One example is the island-style pho that includes huli huli chicken, Thai basil, fresh cilantro, and lemongrass coconut broth.
“That dish is so different and unique,” Shinagawa said. “The saltiness of the chicken, the sweet spiciness of the broth, and the rice noodles.”
He added that poke — a type of salad with seaweed, cucumbers and tomatoes — also had to be on the menu and that he is surprised by how much he’s sold so far in Everett. One woman gave him a hug when the restaurant opened because poke was offered, Shinagawa said.
“My food is not like traditional Hawaiian plate lunch,” he said. “I definitely wanted to bring something different but still be casual and reminiscent of Hawaii.”
Dishes include appetizers, salads, noodle and rice plates, burgers and sandwiches.
Dry soda, Hawaiian sun juice and iced teas, coffee, wine and beer are also regularly offered. Each meal includes a small scoop of sherbet.
Lake Stevens residents Kathy James and Debbie Lamberty enjoyed their recent lunch at Kama’aina Grindz.
There’s nothing on the menu that she’s tried and hasn’t liked, Lamberty said. She also enjoys the family atmosphere of the restaurant.
“I come here all the time,” Lamberty said. “You feel the ohana when you come in.”
Kari Aholelei is Shinagawa’s sister and is a manager at the restaurant. She’s proud of what he has accomplished and isn’t surprised Kama’aina Grindz is successful.
“I don’t know how he comes up with these recipes and things,” she said. “I can’t see that kind of vision but he has it. I always believed in him.”
It’s longer hours than he used to work but finally owning a restaurant is worth it, Shinagawa said.
“It’s definitely more rewarding,” he said. “I don’t mind the hours working for myself.”