“It’s bad timing for us to give anything away, but it’s the time to be giving things away,” said Kathy Bowles, owner of Bowles Burritos in Kailua.
Business may be down about 30% at the Mexican restaurant and bar since the coronavirus lockdown started, but that hasn’t stopped Bowles and some of her customers from treating essential workers in the community to free food. “We’re trying to say thank you to everybody who’s doing what they’re supposed to do,” she said.
The giveaway is nothing officially organized, just random acts of kindness.
“A nice, elderly gentleman got the ball rolling,” she said. In March he gave her money to feed about 25 officers at the police station across the street, and Bowles threw in another 10 burritos for the second shift.
That made another person say, “Wow! I’d like to do that,” she recounted. That customer paid for 250 burritos for staff at Adventist Health Castle in April.
One good thing led to another, and by the end of June, there had been about $6,000 in donations. The restaurant chipped in another $3,500 in food.
After the anonymous donations were noted on the restaurant’s Facebook page, someone else sprung for a second batch of 250 burritos to Castle in honor of National Hospital Week in May. Yet another donor provided 75 burritos for the police department and for health care workers at nearby clinics.
Bowles, who worked many years with the Hawaii Foster Youth Coalition, retains a soft spot for hungry kids and their helpers. She held her own benefit for volunteers at Kailua Elementary School, where she’d seen so many cars lined up for free meals.
She wanted to donate food to the families but couldn’t because federal funds were involved in the program. So she fed 20 volunteers every Friday for nine weeks. “I was hoping to put a little smile on their faces; they were out there doing a nice thing,”she said.
With $250 of donations left, she plans to provide lunch for 60 employees at the Ann Pearl Rehabilitation and Healthcare center in Kaneohe this month, and chip in to feed residents.
Bowles opened her restaurant eight years ago and runs it with sons Michael and Christian; daughter Katie takes care of social media. No one has been laid off from the staff of 13, although business has been a bit tough.
All menu items are made fresh daily, and are “pretty, darn big,” she said, citing their slogan: “We pack ‘em fat and roll ‘em tight.”
Bestsellers include marinated chicken and kalua pork burritos — the 10-inch ($10.25) size was made for the donated meals. A 12-inch ($12.25) size is favored by “military guys” with huge appetites, she said.
Also popular is the grilled carne asada steak, which can be selected for any entree. Customers build their own burritos, nachos, quesadillas, taco salads and more ($7.50 to $18.95) with a choice of protein, fillings (beans, rice, vegetables, etc.), and extras (sauces and guacamole). One option is to “Get It Wet: drenched with green verde sauce and covered with melted cheese.” There’s also a keiki menu and homemade Key lime pie ($5).
Bowles said giving away lunches during these anxious times has been rewarding. “I guess when the world gets so scary, and you know that you can put a smile on someone’s face and make them feel appreciated, it does help you cope a little bit better,” she said. “And it makes us remember that we’re not alone in this world.”
Bowles Burritos, 270 Kuulei Road, Kailua; 888-8841. Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Dine-in, curbside pickup, delivery available; order at bowlesburritos.com.