Author Marta Lane, one of the island’s top resources for eating well on Kauai, stopped by the bakery to share lunch with owner Tom Pickett. They discussed how this favorite North Shore eatery got its start and she also discovered some interesting inventions and methods that Tom has developed over the years to make his restaurant greener and adaptive to support all of his customers. Stop by, there’s a reason it’s been around for almost 25 years.
Since 1990, Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza has established itself as a reliable source of delectable baked goods and savory, wholesome meals. Located in the historic Kung Long Center, cheerful visitors and dedicated residents share laughter over food or tap on laptops using the bakery’s free Wi-Fi. Even local author, David Katz, wrote a good portion of his book Round Trip at the bakery.
The restaurant’s popularity may be the result of good food, 30 happy employees, or a convivial atmosphere anchored in community. But I would argue that the secret behind their success is owner Thomas Pickett and his insatiable appetite for invention.
Pickett, originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1981. He, along with wife and business manager Katie, moved to Kauai in 1985 when the couple transferred from the Sheraton Waikoloa on Hawaii, The Big Island.
Today, the bakery uses a sourdough starter that Pickett made in 1986 while working as a pastry chef at the Sheraton Princeville. Days begin at 4 a.m., when loaves of bread are popped into the oven after proofing for 18 hours.
“Our molasses rye is always mentioned when Kilauea is mentioned,” Pickett tells me as we share lunch under an umbrella at one of the bakery’s outside tables. Defying my image of a baker, his blue eyes shine as he feeds his lean frame with massive slices of fresh baked pizza.
“It was first made famous at the Dolphin Restaurant and then Jaques’ Bakery, where it became statewide famous,” Pickett concludes. Other fresh baked loaves include whole wheat and ciabatta, an Italian bread with a springy crumb.
While the bread cools, Pickett’s team prepares 40 pastries including New York-style bagels, Polish bialys (like holeless bagels with savory fillings), dark chocolate dipped guava macaroons and éclairs filled with local coconuts.
Frustrated with the cost and landfill waste of canned coconut milk, Pickett invented and patented a “coconut faucet” and a friend built Vlad the Impaler. About 50 pounds of North Shore coconuts are drained using Pickett’s faucet before they’re cracked open on Vlad. Three pounds of coconut meat are harvested, whipped into pastry cream and loaded into éclairs, which are draped with dark chocolate.
Next to Vlad is a noni press, which Pickett created to make Tom’s Super Sonic Noni Tonic. Similar to a cider press, ripe noni is pressed and a clear juice is collected. Ginger, turmeric and Hawaiian chili pepper juice is added to soften the pungent blue cheese flavor while boosting nutritional properties.
Fresh made soup is offered daily, homemade bacon is cured in passion fruit syrup and rosemary; and whole, fresh pork butt is made into sausage that is served on pizza and in daily specials such as calzones, sandwiches and stromboli. Even though the sausage is labor intensive, it tastes better and is cheaper than buying the prepackaged kind, which also contributes to the landfill.
A better product, lower cost and less landfill waste is what prompted Pickett to grow basil for the bakery’s pesto. He found a variety that doesn’t go to seed and over the course of three years, planted 300 of them.
“We save about $3,000 a year this way,” says Pickett of his pesto made with macadamia nuts, “and it tastes way better than that stuff that’s loaded with fillers.”
Nurturing what Pickett calls a tolerance for intolerance, the bakery is a “trans-fat-free zone” that offers gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and vegetarian food options.
“We’ve got a great formula called the ‘Nuthin’ Formula,’” explains Pickett. “There’s nothin’ bad in it. Our Nuthin’ Muffin is dairy-free, gluten-free, has berries, Sucanat instead of sugar and it is delicious!”
As my husband Dan and I leave, we pass the bakery’s book cart, which has raised more than $22,000 for the literary program at Kilauea Elementary School. It seems the bakery owner has a hand in just about everything.
Click here to see the article in the Garden Island.
Click here to visit Marta’s website TastingKauai.com.