Grab and Go: Chamorro Grindz celebrates Guam fare
Before finding a permanent spot in Waikele, Chamorro Grindz would make appearances at Eat the Street and other food truck events around Oahu.
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Each time a customer leaves happy, Nora Perez knows she’s helping keep her late husband’s legacy alive.
The bigger the smile, the better.
“That was his passion,” Perez, 47, said of Norbert “Sonny” Perez Jr., who died in January 2018. “He always wants the customer to walk away with a big smile.”
Perez — no relation to this reporter — is seeing a lot of grinning faces these days.
Business has picked up since the former Guam resident found a permanent home in Waikele for the food truck, Chamorro Grindz, that she and her husband started several years ago. The truck features fare from the couple’s former Pacific island home.
Before finding a permanent spot, Chamorro Grindz would make appearances at Eat the Street and other food truck events around Oahu.
Perez and her late husband, who both had regular jobs, decided about three years ago to start a Chamorro food truck to bring traditional Guam foods to Oahu palates and to help spread knowledge and appreciation of the Chamorro culture in Hawaii. Sonny gave up his banking and real estate jobs so he could concentrate on the food business.
When Perez isn’t teaching third-graders at Keoneula Elementary School in Ewa Beach, she’s usually helping at the truck. Her two sons, Jaynel, 17, a senior at Moanalua High School, and Nathaniel, 20, a University of Hawaii student, also pitch in. “It’s hard work,” she says. “It’s commitment and dedication.”
A lot of her regular customers are Chamorros and others who used to live on Guam and miss the local foods. Whenever customers tell her how much they enjoyed the food, Perez is thrilled, knowing Sonny would be happy. “That makes me feel good, wanting to continue his legacy,” she says.
Ironically, Perez and her husband rarely cooked Chamorro food when they lived on Guam (they moved to Hawaii in 2005). Perez said they would eat the local foods at the many fiestas, parties held to honor the patron saint of each village on Guam.
When Perez and her husband decided to start the food truck, the couple asked Sonny’s “nana” — the woman who raised him — for her recipes.
Chamorro Grindz offers combination plates featuring traditional fiesta staples. The Fiesta Plate, $15, includes red rice (it’s actually more orange than red, flavored and colored with achiote seeds), barbecued chicken and ribs (marinated in a shoyu-based sauce) and chicken kelaguen (mainly diced chicken, onions, lemon juice and tiny bits of hot pepper). It also comes with a small salad and finadene, a shoyu-based condiment typically poured over the rice.
Combo plates come with just the chicken ($10) or ribs ($13). The Hafa Adai Plate ($18) includes everything from the Fiesta Plate plus shrimp patties and empanada.
Kelaguen, the most popular seller, is available a la carte for $8. Shrimp patties also are offered a la carte for the same price. Two empanadas are $6.
A Chamorro dessert, latiya, cake with a top layer of custard, is $8.
Chamorro Grindz specials may include fish kelaguen ($10), similar to poke, and kadun pika ($12), a spicy chicken dish similar to adobo.
Before Sonny died, he wrote a business plan that included opening a Chamorro restaurant and expanding to three food trucks. Perez hopes to pursue that plan as a tribute to him. “That’s what I want to do, what my sons want to do,” she says.
Waikele Premium Outlets, Waipahu, back parking lot
>> Call: 554-3585
>> Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays
>> Prices: Plates $13 to $18; 20% kamaaina discount on Tuesdays
>> Seating: Picnic tables
>> Parking: Free in the Waikele lot
>> Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Grab and Go” focuses on takeout food, convenience meals and other quick bites. Email ideas to email@example.com.