There's a new addition to our Paiko squad, but its a familiar face. Alex Hubbard, owner of smoothie and sandwich bar, The Cut, in Lana Lane Studios, has recently joined forces with Paiko to create beautiful Launiu Pāpale (coconut frond hats). We chatted with Alex about food, the story behind his hats, and his vision for the future.
Tell us about yourself and what led you to opening The Cut.
Food is a great way to get to know a person so why don't we start off with that. In regards to my diet, people often ask me, “what are you?” I'm not a Vegan or a Vegetarian and I'm definitely not an ambassador of health. I'm not above anyone's personal tastes nor am I below any perpetuated habitual myths. I'm interested in the story of our Food and I find myself searching for my community of like minds, cultivating my heart and others I meet on my journey.
I'm no chef. However, I do like to eat! I'm not a farmer (at least not to the capacity that I can sustain myself year round). Ain't that a pickle? A guy that doesn't grow his own food, but likes to eat everyday. Yet somehow I still manage to eat everyday- can you believe that?
I think majority of the population is in the same predicament. I read on HI-CAN.org something to the tune of 88% of our food we eat in Hawaii is imported. We are disconnected from the very substance which gives us life. We depend on others to feed us.
Food is either giving us life or taking it away. The less involved in the process of my food I am, the more I'm being force fed (not just food but policy as well). I ask myself three questions- what am I eating? Where/how was it grown? How was it prepared? These simple questions govern more than we may think. In them, lies the answer to World Peace. Majority of the external conflict we experience in the World is a direct reflection of the internal conflict we are experiencing within, but that's another essay.
The most rewarding experience in life, for me, is growing my own food, eating it and sharing it! It makes me feel alive like when I'm walking down the street and I share a smile with a pretty girl. Growing and eating our own food stays with us. It resonates in us. It elevates us. It changes us. We can only change ourselves, but the right food changes a person from the inside out.
In our busy lives, we often feel we don't have time to prepare our own food, let alone grow it. There lies the problem. The experience, the relationship, our senses, the land, the touch and smell and taste. It's these little connections that are necessary in bridging the gap between ourselves and food. Do we only eat to satisfy our hunger? Or is there a more sacred, communal, grounding pleasure that we are failing to experience?
Is there a more profound ritual that directly affects our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being? Yet it's something we do multiple times a day with little to no thought.
When I'm off my game, I use food to heal myself. I prefer raw fruits and vegetables, medicinal roots that take little prep time. Minimal ingredients too – mono meals.
So I opened a smoothie shop so I could be around nourishing food all the time and live a more meaningful purposeful life! It was a no brainer. Come to find out, I'm getting an education in Hawaii’s Food System. Believe me when I say, there's more to food than what meets the eye.
What is The Cut all about?
All I hear is "eat local, eat local, eat local" but where can I find a local meal in Kakaako? A simple, satisfying meal that I can enjoy quickly and without guilt. I saw a local pineapple for sale yesterday for $25! I'm down to support local, but sometimes I don't feel local is down to support me.
The Cut is about access, opportunity, education, community and connection.
Making locally grown meals accessible to the general public.
Providing Opportunities for the Community to make educated decisions.
Educating the Community to know what their decisions are supporting.
Cultivating a Community unified in Consciousness.
Connecting the Community back to the Source.
My vision is a self-sustained community that is connected to the land. Big dreams huh? It's a work in progress. I don't have all the answers. Ultimately, the status of the community is determined by their level of participation, commitment and current needs.
Sourcing locally, being fresh and making things from scratch are obviously top priority. How does this philosophy apply to the hats you're now making for Paiko? Where do you source your materials and where did you learn how to make them?
That's a good question. Another good question is why is this Haole boy wearing Launiu Pāpale? I'm not Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian). I'm a fourth generation descendant of Korean and Malaysian immigrants who came here as indentured servants to work the plantation fields. Both of my Grandmas married service men during WW2. I'm a by-product of Industry and War.
Born in Waikiki, raised in Kaimuki; I grew up under a mango tree my Great Grandfather, Ok-Soo Song, planted with the help of my dad when he was a kid. This tree is close to 60yrs old now and I still live under it. I'm old enough to take care of it now. I harvest the mango in the summer. I trim it once a year. I like to rake the leaves on Sunday's. It's how I fellowship with the creator. It's Church. Working the land and maintaining the trees is Worship. Eating, as we discussed earlier, is Ritual. Kids should grow up with trees. Especially trees that were planted by their ancestors. Trees truly are living legacies.
My grandfather's still taking care of me till this day. Providing shade, nourishment, and teaching me lessons. You can learn a lot just by sitting up in a tree.I was being fed mango before I was raking leaves. As kids, we would pick mango with the big bamboo picker. As we got older, we'd just climb with denim bags sewn by Great Grandma and stay up there for an hour filling up bag after bag. This is the story of a 30 year old relationship between a boy and a tree who helped raise him into a man.
The trees planted in our yards have a history. They have an identity. We see them as contributing members of our Family. They are our Family.
My story with Niu is no different. I was fed it first. I drank coconut. I took shelter in their shade, working under one for three years. I learned to weave on the Beach in Waikiki from Coffee Ken, one of the uncles that helped Captain Mondo with his catamaran out front the outrigger reef hotel. Being so thirsty for fresh coconut water, I learned to climb. I used to renegade Kawamotos properties until he cut down all the prized ones we'd pick from. Now I have several trees I regularly trim and pick from. No more renegading. Two Niu trees per person is more than enough to have fresh coconut everyday of the year.
You see how these relationships began though? The land takes care of us then in turn we learn to take care of the land. Ulana Launiu –coconut leaf weaving- is truly a gift from the land to the stewards who take care of it.
Coffee Ken taught me one main thing about weaving that I keep with me always. He taught me to weave because I want to weave. He'd say “ don't make a rose cause you wanna give it to some broad. Your rose is gonna come out all messed up. You gotta weave with no intentions. When you weave, you weave just to weave, that's it. Now if somebody wants to buy what you made hey- nothing wrong with that. But don't weave because you want to sell your stuff and make money or use it to pick up chicks.”
I don't weave too often, but when I do, I keep this lesson with me. I pick leaf when I pick coconut. Lately, I've been using the leaf from my friends house in Kapahulu, Todd Pinder. I like to use this leaf because his tree is protected from the wind. That coconut he's got is my favorite too! Although I've never met a coconut I didn't like.
One last story about my favorite Pāpale.
My favorite Pāpale comes from Honolua Bay, Maui. A magical place with surreal beauty and ancient Mana. A tree had been cut down. A tall tree, old enough it had probably seen the Royalty. The crown lay on the ground with the center leaf intact next to its massive stump. I asked the Kahu, Jimmy Billianor, if I could have the leaf. He said sure so I borrowed his knife and cut the leaf. I wove a basket that night and gave it to him he next morning before hopping on a plane and taking the rest of it home with me back to Oahu.
Normally you never take the center leaf. That's the life of the tree. If you take that leaf you kill the tree. Now think about that for a second.
A hundred year old coconut tree, from Honolua Bay, that stood right off the trail to the ocean; overlooking all who passed it for years. The center life of its crown woven into a crown to crown my head. What a privilege it is to be able to honor its life. It's as if I was destined to receive its blessing that day.
Every time I weave, I learn. The leaf wants to teach you all it has but we can only take as much as we're ready for. As my relationship with Launiu grows, I notice I am more willing to receive its lessons than when I first was introduced to this Kupuna.
Each Pāpale in Paiko taught me a lesson. When you pick up those hats and try them on you'll want to know more. It's the start of a lifelong relationship. If you allow it, the leaf is willing to teach you something too.
Ulana Launiu / coconut leaf weaving
Pāpale / Hat
The Cut recently took a little break and rumor is that it's back better and stronger! What can everyone look forward to?
Organization. Participation. Collaboration.
I asked my uncle this question the other day and I'll ask you too- Do you think ancient Hawaiians had poi stands? Somebody dedicated to sitting in a stand all day selling poi to people whenever they were hungry.
I really don't know the answer to that but I'd like to imagine that their eating practices were more communal and every person involved partook in the process at some level.
I stayed in a small town in Parana, Brazil called Marechal Candido-Rondon. Stayed there two months and lived with a Brazilian family that spoke very little English. Everyday from 11:30 to 1:30 we ate lunch together. The kids would come home from school to help their mothers, the father would come home from work and we'd all sit and eat together. The family fought, laughed and cried at that table but they did it together. Day in Day out. Lunch was a daily organized event that brought the family together. I looked forward to it.
I'm organizing a few regular monthly events. A weekly pre-ordered meal plan. A Sunday educational Dinner. A night market jam and a few workshops. All to bring the community together around food.
The meal plan is a pre-ordered lunch once a week on Thursdays. It will be mostly vegetarian based meals, made with Local ingredients, except for grains and beans. It will consist of a salad, an entrée and a beverage. People can sign up and make their reservation in advance by email or Instagram and come eat or pick up their meal between 1130am and 2pm. It will be a chance to socialize and meet people in the community and come together to support our local farmers and work towards our Food Independence.
The Sunday dinner is a chance to learn our Mission and Vision and Goals; and the who's, what's , where's, why's and how's.
It's also a chance to educate ourselves and teach ourselves how to initiate and support a local food economy. Its an opportunity to create a unified voice to speak on behalf of our community food needs.
I have a coconut workshop planned for Dec 13th. This course will focus on machete sharpening, coconut husking, safety and preparing the meat in several ways. It will include all the necessary tools I use to process coconut. Lunch will be included as well.
I am Determined and Dedicated to create sustaining solutions to solve the food, economic and environmental challenges we presently face as a society. I invite you to join me and begin the transformative journey that takes place from the inside out.
Anyone interested in participating in any of these programs, workshops or events can contact me for more information. If you want to incorporate local food into your diet in a convenient way let's make it happen!
Interview and Photos by Kenna Reed