‘Ohana Hale Marketplace: Where? Oh Yeah!!

Aug 6, 2019

If you’re looking for a different place to shop and eat in Honolulu, ‘Ohana Hale Marketplace might interest you.  The Marketplace is basically street stalls in air conditioning, and more than fifty of the stalls are food vendors, inside the former Sports Authority on Ward Avenue. New shuttles from Waikīkī should improve traffic for the hopeful entrepreneurs.

Bobby O'Spamagan says there's definite feeling of shared fate among vendors. Ohana Hale is open seven days a week, which can become grueling.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

What’s great about Ohana Hale Marketplace is, people are taking a chance here. Take Bobby at Bobby O’Spamagan’s, “Home of the Tiger Twinkie.” O’Spamagan's concept is, the fun of the Irish meets the local love for Spam. 

"I feel like i'm cheating with Spam," he says, "Because if I were cooking with chicken or beef, I'd have to do a lot to it to make it flavorful." 

O’Spamagan does gourmet Spam. He does not do musubi. Everything on the menu has Spam in it except the Tiger Twinkies and the 'Taters 'n Cheese. Clearly he could slide a piece of Spam into the Twinkie, but O'Spamagan has his limits.

Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

"I have been given a recipe for a Spam jello mold, but I just couldn't do that," says O'Spamagan. “I’ve been thinking about this for eight, nine years. And yes, this is new, it has not fulfilled its potential yet, but I walked in on a Friday and by Saturday night I was ordering equipment.”

“Too good to pass up” is what you hear from these hardy entrepreneurs.

“We took the risk and said, we gotta try it,” says Kim, who, with her husband, Leon, opened Tacoholics in January. Leon quit his job in construction and is full time on the dream, serving fun, messy, West Coast style street tacos in Hawai‘i.

“I still have my full  time job,” says Kim, but their ambition is to have a brick and mortar restaurant some day.  They figure ‘Ohana Hale allows them to learn the trade and build a following first, without the risk and investment of a food truck.

“It’s good because it’s something that’s ours, we are the owners, so at the end of the day, as hard as it is, as tired as we are, that’s our name that’s on it and that’s what we’re proud of.”

Seven days a week!

Leon recommends the lengua taco, beef tongue, as a tasty must-try. Pictured here, a jackfruit taco with rice and beans: $4.50.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

These two say ‘Ohana Hale was way more manageable that a food truck for them, and making it easy to wing a new business is just what ‘Ohana Hale owner, Chris ‘Ulu and his son, general Manager Andrew ‘Ulu, are trying to do.

‘Ulu says his dad started with a storage company, he put in A/C and wifi, and people turned some of the spaces into mini offices.  ‘Ulu also saw the demand for indoor swap meets in Las Vegas, and figured it could work here. That’s half the business, but you need a network of makers, cooks, etc., too.

“It took years,” says ‘Ulu, “He tried in Kapolei, they shut him down, he tried in Waikele, the old K-mart, they shut him down.   When Howard Hughes gave him this opportunity, finally when he got his location, they all said, Oh, he finally did it!”

Stall rents differ according to location, average rate for a 10x10ft space is $1500 -$2100 per month, wifi and utilities included. No open fires are allowed. A web search turns up complaints about management, for example, that they are  slow to respond or have not delivered on promotional promises.  

Asked directly, vendors said management could be better, but it could be worse.  Either way, they say there is definitely an ohana type of feeling among vendors, and their hopes are up for the new shuttles from Waikīkī, which should improve visitor traffic. 

Pablo was the dosa maker at an ashram for many years, and makes a fine example of the crunchy, chewy Indian crepe here.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Responding to complaints about lack of foot traffic, ‘Ulu said some novice vendors simply expect too much, and the company has spent $90 thousand dollars on advertising since opening last october. He’s seen some vendors leave, only to return a few months later.  Which is fine, ‘Ulu says, because everybody is just a small business trying to figure things out.

There are over 100 vendors open for business, about half are food stalls. The mix is decidedly local, with hand crafted jewelry alongside giant amethyst crystals, alongside waffles, black pearls, lumpia, psychic readings, crispy beef jerky, electronics repair, spearguns, icepops, hand carved tiki, poke, Phiten, soft serve, ‘ukulele, you name it.

‘Ohana Hale Marketplace is open 7 days a week, Monday through Saturday 10-8, Sundays 10-5. Parking on site, pet friendly.