The lovelorn might just want to forget about searching for a significant other at the clubs or online, but take their cues from the farmers markets, where a shared love of food brings many people together. Behind many booths are modern-day mom-and-pops who are showing that love is not about chocolates, Champagne, flowers and fantasy suites on Valentine’s Day, but appreciating each others’ strengths, and continuing to love them at their sweaty and stressed-out worst.
During a spin around the FarmLovers Markets at Ward Village from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, or Kailua on Sundays, we found many couples demonstrating what real love and support looks like. It’s less about the romantic fantasy, and more about the gritty day-in, day-out rigors of teamwork at home and out, and working toward shared goals while striving for life balance.
HA‘AWI TOAST & TEA
Mark and Bonnie Shishido
Ha‘awi started with two separate, but trending, ideas.
Bonnie Shishido was inspired by Julia Child blogger Julie Powell’s recreation of Child’s renowned eggplant pizza with no crust, just a base of eggplant brushed with olive oil and topped with tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and cheeses.
“I wanted to eat that and it was great!”
The memory of the eggplant kept replaying in her mind, mingling with the idea of avocado toast, a staple from Down Under, that began trending here with the rise of mindful eating habits.
So with a handful of her best recipes, Shishido launched Ha‘awi Toast & Tea last February to offer a variety of toasts at the farmers markets. But she couldn’t do it alone and enlisted her husband, Mark Shishido, wine director for Alan Wong’s Restaurants, into service.
“I needed someone to help me set up and handle cash, and Mark’s very good at presentation and plating. I just do the toast,” she said.
“Toast is a great canvas,” he said. “You can put anything on top of it.”
Their toast starts with a French baguette. Mainstay toppings include eggplant stewed with onions, garlic and tomato sauce; smashed avocado with a spoonful of Ewa corn salsa; and kalua pork with hoisin sauce, cilantro and green onions.
The business allows the couple to spend more time together than they might otherwise, with her working days and him working late-night restaurant hours.
They’ve been married for 40 years and he joked that the secret of making it work may have been “not being home for half those years” because of the demands of working for one of the island’s top restaurateurs.
One of their daughters, Jamie Shishido, said she loves seeing her parents bantering and laughing together. Working the farmers market has brought them all together more frequently, Jamie said, since she has her own home in West Oahu.
“It’s fun to be in such a close space together,” Jamie said. “Even though it’s for work, we get to enjoy each others’ company.”
Abe and Ping Phanphengdy
At the close of the Laotian Civil War in 1975, travel to France was easy, so Abe Phanphengdy moved from Laos to Brittany, where he learned to cook at a Thai restaurant.
Later, on a trip to Hawaii to visit his brother, he met his future wife, Ping, and decided to stay. He needed work and rather than toil for someone else, he and other family members opened the first Champa Thai restaurant at Pearl Kai Center in Aiea in 1989. With that initial success, Champa Thai restaurants started springing up in neighborhoods across Oahu, with Abe and Ping running their own shop in Kaimuki for 14 years, until the property they were leasing was sold three years ago.
The couple could have looked for another permanent site, but instead chose to bring select favorite dishes such as green papaya salad and pad thai to the farmers market, where they enjoy a more lively community of vendors and shoppers.
“We can watch people passing by and have more time to talk more because it’s not as stressful as a restaurant,” he said.
Although they may occasionally have disagreements, she said they bickered more frequently when they were running the restaurant.
“We had a lot of expenses, and what do husbands and wives fight about? Money,” he said. “Now there’s no payroll, no reason to fight.”
Jenny Bredeken and Roscoe Fowler
He was a construction worker and she was a nurse when Roscoe Fowler and Jenny Bredeken met six years ago. She didn’t think it strange at all that among Fowler’s diverse interests was a strong curiosity and passion for fermentation and its many permutations, from making beer to sauerkraut to kim chee.
One year later, the couple went on a life-changing trek to visit her family in Minnesota, where she had grown up on her father’s wheat farm driving tractors, clearing fields of rocks and tending crops and the family’s large garden.
“It was winter and there was nothing to do because it was so cold we had to stay inside,” she said. “Because he was so bored, he just started baking bread.”
With an endless array of bread styles to master, the baking experiments continued when the pair returned to Honolulu, and friends were the recipients of Fowler’s projects. “When we gave it away, friends said, ‘You need to be selling this,’ and it just all came together,” Bredeken said. So Roscoe’s Sourdough was born, with breads made with wheat from her dad’s farm.
“The flavors are so much fuller because the flour is milled just before we make the dough, so it’s so fresh,” she said.
Both were able to quit their jobs last May, and said they couldn’t have made their business work without each other. “I feel like we kind of balance each other out,” Fowler said. “She likes getting up early, I love staying up late, so she has to push me.”
She’s also business-oriented and the more gregarious of the pair, so she is usually the one who greets customers and handles transactions.
Bredeken has accepted that Fowler’s sourdough starter has become the couple’s baby. “Whenever we travel, he takes the starter with him and feeds it twice a day, just like a baby.”
Luke LaJoye and Polly Ralda (with baby Maxima)
Polly Ralda’s surf trip to Hawaii a year ago turned into something more permanent when she met fellow surfer Luke LaJoye at a Whole Foods Market and fell in love.
They became inseparable, and while most women might not have understood or indulged his love of tree climbing, she found a way to turn it into a business.
One of the trees he mastered was the coconut, and now, based on his harvests, they are able to offer fresh coconut water, plus coconut milk, cream, coconut banana bread and other baked goods at farmers markets from the North Shore to Honolulu.
Her know-how stems from having moved from her native Guatemala to Barcelona, Spain, to attend culinary school. But instead of immediately putting her skills to work, she decided to continue studies in psychology.
“It took eight years, but now I’m finally doing what I went to school for,” she said.
Their operation has become a sort of family affair: Given the open, neighborly atmosphere of the farmers market, the couple is able to bring their infant daughter Maxima to work, watching over her while customers coo over the newest addition to the farmers market family. When not serving customers, Luke can often be seen cradling his daughter, who’s not much bigger than a coconut, with one hand.
Tim Clark and Kiki Pu Chung
A shared interest in plant-based medicine brought Tim Clark and Kiki Pu Chung together.
His family runs a homeopathic and nutritional medicine company based in Florida, while her great-grandmother was a medicine woman in China, called on to prescribe various plant-based cures for her village.
Chung grew up with an interest in plant medicine, but it was only when she became an adult that she visited a naturopath, who led her to practitioners of plant medicine. Along the way, she learned to make a versatile healing salve that could be used on cuts, burns and as a lip balm, which reinforced the power of plant medicine and led her to study la‘au lapa‘au, traditional Hawaiian plant medicine.
It wasn’t long before she began sharing her salve and newfound knowledge with friends and family, and one product multiplied into about 20 the couple now produces. Their product line includes reef-friendly sunscreen, facial serum, CBD extracts and tinctures, and insect repellent.
With “divide and conquer” being the tactic employed by many couples who work together, she makes the products, and Clark takes it from there. “I’m business-minded so I help with packaging and marketing,” he said.
“We really enjoy the farmers market community, so if we can be here and do something for the environment, it’s enough.”
Maya Mordechay and Yonatan Armon
Maybe it was intentional, but when Maya Mordechay was about to make her first trip to Hawaii, she cast about for contacts and her sister told her to contact her best friend’s brother Yonatan Armon, who was living here as an environmental geographer.
The two clicked and their two sisters are elated to now be sisters-in-law.
Over time, the two missed the food of their native Israel, and with an interest in health, Armon said, “I wanted to create a business that would focus on health and introduce Israeli food.”
From that interest, Surfer’s Wife Plant-Based Kitchen was born. The company is best known for Armon’s fawaffle, a falafel that’s pressed in a waffle maker to get the signature grid pattern.
“I’m a surfer, a very active person, so I’m very aware of health. Using the waffle maker is a way of cooking a falafel without oil.”
While he comes up with the menus, Mordechay uses her skills to handle marketing duties and create visuals such as logos and artwork. That includes spicing up the fawaffles with the color of roasted red peppers and the green of cilantro and parsley for more drama on the plate, and introducing a 1980s surf vibe to decor and T-shirts.
Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.