WORDS / TAYLOR GLADWIN
PHOTO / VIKRAM DESAI
Let winter end and luaus begin. Hawaiian Brian’s in Fayetteville is sailing towards spring with new ideas. For the past couple of months, the Hawaiian Brian’s family has been preparing for its next big adventures, as well as opening up a new location in Springdale.
Shanea and Michael Holmbeck are the restaurant owners and the geniuses behind the menu. Married for 18 years, the couple brings their individual personalities to the table. Michael has a native taste for Hawaiian delicacies. Originally from Kahuku, Oahu, Michael grew up playing pool at Hawaiian Brian’s Billiard in Honolulu, which played a role in giving the restaurant its name. Shanea, a Fayetteville local, has always loved cooking and brings a “Southern girl infusion” to each entree. “The entire restaurant is ‘Hawaiian-style cooking’ – dishes you can get in Hawaii, but with a Southern flare,” Shanea says.
Shanea is that flare. She started bringing dishes to potlucks, like Michael’s grandmother’s recipe for Shoyu Chicken (shoyu is Japanese for soy sauce). After trying and loving the food, friends suggested that they open a restaurant. With Shanea’s passion for cooking and Michael’s Hawaiian roots, “it just kind of went from there,” Shanea says.
Hawaiian Brian’s was one of the first food trucks in Fayetteville. After four months of people lining up from the truck out to the street, Hawaiian Brian’s outgrew the food truck business and they decided to open a restaurant. That was just over a year ago. Today, Hawaiian Brian’s has plans to spice up the restaurant with hula and bamboo stick dancers and ukulele players. Another key part of the plan is to have local beer, such as Core and Fossil Cove, with wine available by spring. The house beer will be a specialty coconut pineapple pale ale, brewed by local Fayetteville friends Tanglewood Brewery.
“If you go to Hawaii, the whole island is made up of white people, Hawaiians, Samoans, Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese. You’ve got this huge infusion of people who have shared recipes. A lot of people think that Hawaiian food is going to be something crazy, but it’s comfort food,” Shanea says.
Some of their traditional dishes include Kalua Pig with rice, cabbage and macaroni salad. “In Hawaii, everything is served with macaroni salad. It’s huge,” she says. A true Southern girl, she has her own popular recipe for macaroni salad. The menu also includes Chicken Katsu (Japanese fried chicken), and spam and eggs with rice, a traditional Hawaiian breakfast. Hawaiian Brian’s has daily specials as well, including Musubi (spam sushi).
“We want you to be able to walk in, hear Hawaiian music, relax, and feel like you’re in Hawaii, but be able to afford to eat,” Shanea says.
When Shanea and Michael first decided to open a Hawaiian restaurant, they had no idea about the large Marshallese population in Northwest Arkansas, who began migrating to Springdale in the late 1980s due to the effects of nuclear testing near the Marshall Islands by the United States government during the Cold War.
“We knew that we were offering our local Arkansans something different. It’s not BBQ, it’s not Chinese, it’s not fancy. We were excited about that, but now that we know that so many people have either been to Hawaii or that we have so many islanders, it’s just a good feeling,” she says.
Shanea and Michael’s next thought was, “Oh my god, there are 8,000 islanders in Springdale, Arkansas who have nowhere to go for food.”
Besides cultural and delicious food, Hawaiian Brian’s is a team player in the community. Hawaiian Brian’s is sponsoring a diversity day at Sam’s Club in Fayetteville, with the official date to be released at a later time. The event will include a 45-minute storytelling about the Hawaiian/Marshallese culture. Hawaiian Brian’s will serve food as well as have ukulele musicians and traditional Hawaiian dancing.
The restaurant played a role in the local movie scene by sponsoring and catering the crew of Gordon Family Tree, which was shot in Fayetteville in 2012. Shanea and Michael also give a portion of their profits to different charities, like human trafficking awareness groups and veterinarian clinics. “Anything that involves the human spirit, we will always be involved in,” Shanea says.
Shanea and Michael have the cultural knowledge, kitchen skills, and heart to take Hawaiian Brian’s as far as they wish to go. They want expand business to Rogers, Tulsa, Little Rock, Dallas, and Houston.
“One of our biggest reasons for opening a restaurant is 80 percent of the USA will never be able to go to Hawaii because of the expense, so we want to bring Hawaii here [so people can] experience the beauty, the stories…It’s a good feeling. And it’s affordable,” she says.
Return to your favorite island meal or try something new at Hawaiian Brian’s, open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and located in Fayetteville at the Evelyn Hills Shopping Center. Hawaiian Brian’s in Springdale is located at 701 N. Thompson Street. Aloha!