Social Encore: Getting ‘Fresh’ in Chinatown
BY JERMEL-LYNN QUILLOPO / Special to the Star-Advertiser
It’s been several months since Fresh Cafe took over the space formerly known as Indigo on Nuuanu Avenue. Taking the place of an institution in the neighborhood for nearly 20 years meant Fresh Cafe had some big shoes to fill, and owner Tiffany Tanaka and her team have been working hard to update the restaurant and give it an updated look. You can see what they’ve done with the space tonight as Fresh Cafe Downtown celebrates its grand opening starting at 5 p.m.
While Fresh Cafe Downtown will continue to serve my favorites from their original Kakaako location, like creamy tomato soup with crouton bits, the BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato) on a wheat bagel and their balsamic vinaigrette salad, the new restaurant will also serve up some new flavors.
During a preview of the new restaurant last week, head chef Jonathan Botello said cooking was a second career for him after he joined the military as a biomedical electronics repair technician and a car accident left him with a broken back. He went back to familiar territory in the restaurant business, first working under chef Robert McGee at the former Whole Ox in Kakaako as an on-call dishwasher.
From there he went to Indigo, where he worked under chefs Glenn Chu and Ricky Goings until the restaurant closed its doors for good. Now he’s back at his old stomping grounds under Tanaka’s fresh perspective, and this time he’s in charge of revamping the menu.
“Here at Fresh, we are like family and we try and do a lot of things together,” he said. “It’s very much a collaborative effort in a lot of ways. For the menu, everyone presented suggestions to the table and I would then translate that on to the plate and then we would all critique it and make it better.”
Botello said Fresh Cafe Downtown will offer the same vibe as its Kakaako counterpart, but will also bring it up a notch when it comes to what they’ll offer.
“Since it is Chinatown, we are trying to up the game a little bit and adding more creative aspects like our fried avocado, the fried baby carrots, or the Kalua pork nachos,” said Botello. “Trying to do some things on the same lines of the whole idea of simple good, comfort food but elevate it to the next level of a full dining experience.”
Fresh Cafe Kakaako has been the hub for art events such as POW! WOW! Hawaii, and the new location aims to be a big part of the arts and culture scene in Chinatown.
“I live down the street, so Chinatown is my neighborhood,” he said. “I’ve grown up personally playing music, cooking, and bartending in the Chinatown area for about 10 years now. It’s great to have this space here that allows us to be creative from good aspects but to support the arts, support local music and to support the community.”
I have seen Chinatown evolve into a neighborhood that is chic and trendy yet still stays true to the foundation it stands on. Botello said it is vital to be unique in the neighborhood and for Fresh Cafe Downtown to stand out from the pack. With a new menu and spacious venue, Fresh Cafe is brining a new perspective.
“There comes a point that you would sacrifice being unique for the quality of the food but it’s something that we are really committed to while being able to do our own thing,” Botello said. “We want the Fresh Cafe brand to be its own feeling, idea and own concept.”
Fresh Cafe Downtown is located at 1111 Nuuanu Ave. and is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. daily (closed Sundays); also open late for special events. Call (808) 953-7374 or visit freshcafehi.com.
Jermel-Lynn Quillopo is a multi-faceted, energetic individual with experience in both print and broadcast journalism. “Social Encore” aims to tell diverse stories about Hawaii’s food, events and people; share your tips with Jermel via email or follow her on Twitter.