By Liz Nakayama Special to West Hawaii Today
KAWAIHAE — Chef Cary Peterson has a surprise for Kohala Burger &Taco (KBAT) patrons — a “sweet” surprise.
Acquiring the space next door, he has added a new but nostalgic candy-and-toy store he’s named the Goody Shop, also providing additional restaurant seating.
Browsing in the store immediately takes one back to a time before cellphones, when kids played with toys and spent time outdoors. For baby boomers it’s an unexpected trip down memory lane and an opportunity, Peterson hopes, for them to share fun memories with their families.
“What this restaurant is all about for me is getting back to my childhood … to the stuff I loved when I was a kid and the stuff my parents liked doing with me,” he said, “like going to get a hamburger and root beer float, or looking at baseball cards and playing Wiffle ball.”
“I imagine a family spending thousands of dollars to come on a Hawaiian vacation and renting a hotel room on the beach, yet their 12-year-old kid is sitting there on a cell phone. My goal for the Goody Shop is to make vintage beach games and toys available and get back to a time when that was how we entertained ourselves.”
In addition to Frisbees and Wiffle balls, the store carries pro-brand footballs and volleyballs as well as silly putty, cap guns, wooden gliders and water balloon launchers and squirters. There are also beach toys, charm bracelets, baseball cards, comic books and replica vintage lunch boxes to go along with old-fashioned candy.
“I wanted to tie it all together with a nostalgic style candy store where you can buy the candy you remember as a kid,” Peterson said.
The Goody Shop’s candy inventory includes jaw breakers, pop rocks, gold nugget gum, pixie sticks, smarties, root beer barrels, Cracker Jacks and atomic fire balls. This month and next month, people can also select from the Goody Shop’s special Halloween selection including glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs, zombie teeth and scary makeup kits. Likewise, the shop will feature Christmas-themed toys and candy during the season and similarly themed selections on other major holidays.
“Customers should expect something new, something exciting and something added on to enhance their experience every time they come,” Peterson said.
He kept his eye on the space next door since opening Kohala Burger seven years ago. It had remained vacant for a couple of years but he and the then-landlord couldn’t come to an agreement on a financially feasible long-term lease. As luck would have it, or maybe with persistence, Peterson was recently given another opportunity to acquire the space. During a chance encounter with owners who were leasing it short-term, he offered to buy them out. They agreed so he took ownership July 1, and overnight KBAT’s footprint doubled.
Rehabbing the space has included painting and a new service and cashier’s counter. And in accordance with Peterson’s vision, there is now picnic-table-style seating for families to sit down together to dine.
His goal is to have the restaurant match on both sides but with one distinction. The north side, or the original narrower restaurant, continues to serve as a get-in-quick, to-go side of the house, while the new area is open for more relaxed dining — good news for diners who previously wanted to sit down to dine but the space wasn’t always available.
The additional remodeled side means Peterson can also now market more of his own products, in response to customer demand.
“We’ve always had a demand for our own hats, T-shirts, taco sauce, salsas and seasoning mix,” he said. “Now we have the room to feature our products and sell T-shirts so people can remember their visit to Hawaii and the day they came to Kawaihae.”
Peterson’s guiding principle through the years he’s been in business is his mission statement, which he has framed and hanging on the wall. It includes the word “create” because that word means that we make this stuff.
“We’re creating this whole experience from the food to the way we approach and talk to you,” he said.
The mission statement also talks about the “fun and familiar.”
“We make our hamburgers the way people remember, on a flat griddle with a hot soft toasted bun and house-made dressing,” he said.
Lastly, when you look at KBAT’s mission statement, you see the word ALOHA.
“Every letter is capitalized because to us, aloha means more than just being nice to people,” Peterson said. “We actually have an Aloha Service System which is something we created and every letter stands for a step in that cycle, from the time customers walk in the door to the time they leave. We train that.”
As a businessman, Peterson practices the aloha philosophy in how he treats his employees. In addition to training them on how to enter the professional world, he gives his employees medical insurance, a retirement plan with a company-match IRA, a bonus profit-share program and time off on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July.
“When I opened Kohala Burger and Taco, never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be serving 300 people a day,” he said. “I really hope that growth on the Big Island can provide more opportunities for people. I’m hoping to do my part by striving to be the best small employer on the island.”