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Long gone are the days when meals on the road were simply a necessity squeezed in between sightseeing and recreation. Tapping into culinary tourism offers agents an edge, because it provides clients with a fresh, educational and flavorful way to experience a destination’s unique culture. It’s especially savory on Oahu, thanks to the island’s combination of urban and rural landscapes with options at all price points.
“It’s about positioning Oahu as the best of two worlds,” said Noelani Schilling-Wheeler, senior director of sales and marketing for the Oahu Visitors Bureau. “What makes Oahu different is our wide range of culinary options — from budget to high-end — that reflects local influences and lets visitors eat where locals eat.”
The Main CourseAside from sustenance, Hawaii’s food scene enables agents to up their bottom line by matching foodie clients with culinary adventures that run the gamut.
“Agents can showcase their expertise in this niche by pre-booking food tours where clients participate in ‘dine-arounds’ to sample upscale cuisine at a variety of high-end restaurants,” said Robyn Basso, senior director of travel industry partnerships for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. “They can dine at a farm-to-table restaurant and meet the chef, then visit the farms and meet the farmers — bringing the experience full circle.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Basso suggests sending clients to local “mom and pop” spots, farmers markets and festivals that are always food-fueled. Adding to the recipe are group tours to major culinary events such as the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival.
Schilling-Wheeler stresses the role of an agent’s database in growing the culinary niche.
“If an existing client refers a new client, find out their interest points,” she said. “If it’s culinary, tag them as culinary.”
She recommends e-blasts and social media to “update clients on hot trends, hot restaurants and hot chefs. Consider including a travel offer with it. That may be the incentive that will help them decide to travel.”
Cooking schools, food and wine events and local radio stations are other resources for positioning yourself as a culinary expert.
Grazing the RangeFrom breakfast to dinner and every bite in between, Oahu serves up a smorgasbord of nosh options priced from modest to big-ticket.
“There’s a perception that Hawaii is always expensive when it comes to meals,” said Schilling-Wheeler. “When agents get that pushback, they should let clients know about the variety of choices here and the range of price points for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
It’s all about diversity, she added.
“We have everything from great restaurants in Honolulu to shrimp trucks on the North Shore,” said Schilling-Wheeler. “Encourage your customers to go out and explore the island for its culinary aspects as well.”
Restaurant Guide Here’s a look at delicious finds beyond Waikiki and a sampling of signature dishes that put these eateries on the culinary map.
• Bogart’s Cafe (www.bogartscafe.webs.com) – Hawaiian waffle with haupia sauce and taro banana pancakes.
• Goofy Cafe & Dine (www.goofy-honolulu.com) – Big Island honey French toast and Shinsato Farm pork belly Benedict.
• Koko Head Cafe (www.kokoheadcafe.com) – Poi biscuits with gravy, North Shore garden frittata and miso smoked pork with onion omelette.
• Liliha Bakery (www.lilihabakeryhawaii.com) – Cocoa Puff chocolate-filled pastries and Portuguese sausage with eggs.
• Cinnamons (www.cinnamons808.com) – Mahi mahi eggs Benedict, Hawaiian omelette with kalua pork and guava chiffon pancakes.
• Eggs ‘n Things (www.eggsnthings.com) – Macadamia nut waffles, pork chops with eggs and banana pancakes.
• Longhi’s (www.longhis.com) – Crab cake or lobster eggs Benedict served on an inch-thick slice of crispy French baguette.
• Tango Cafe (www.tangocafehawaii.com) – Loco moco Benedict with two poached eggs covering braised beef and fried rice.
• Diamond Head Market & Grill (www.diamondheadmarket.com) – Teriyaki chicken, grilled ahi steak and barbecue pork ribs.
• Ola at Turtle Bay Resort (www.turtlebayresort.com) – Grilled octopus, grilled farmer’s vegetable sandwich and Hawaiian waters ahi poke bowl.
• Taniokas Seafood & Catering (www.taniokas.com) – Shoyu pork, smothered hamburger steak and furikake crusted ahi.
• Buzz’s Lanikai (www.buzzsoriginalsteakhouse.com/lanikai) – Legendary mai tais, chicken chop suey salad and kiawe charcoal broiled burgers.
• Heeia Kea Pier Deli (www.facebook.com/heeiapier) – Shredded roast pork in gravy, guava chicken and black bean opah.
• Kakaako Kitchen (www.kakaakokitchen.com) – Nalo Farms greens, Chinese five-spice shoyu chicken and kimchi burger.
• HASR Bistro (www.hasrbistro.com) – Surfing Goat eggplant souffle, mahi mahi sandwich on toasted sweet Hawaiian bread and banana bread pudding.
• Pineapple Room by Alan Wong (www.alanwongs.com/pineapple-room) – Kimchi Reuben sandwich and pork hash burger with lotus root chips.
• Nico’s Pier 38 (www.nicospier38.com) – Grilled pork chops with garlic butter soy sauce and fried calamari salad.
• Side Street Inn (www.sidestreetinn.com) – Pan-fried island pork chops, chicken katsu and blackened ahi.
• Highway Inn (www.myhighwayinn.com) – Hawaiian combo plates, kalua pig sliders and sweet potato fries.
• Haleiwa Joes at Haiku Gardens (www.haleiwajoes.com) – Crunchy coconut shrimp, ahi lettuce wraps, sticky ribs and tempura crab rolls.
• Proud Peacock Restaurant (www.waimeavalley.com) – Ahi poke, Kahuku corn chowder, Haleiwa shrimp and Kona coffee lava cake.
• Chef Mavro (www.chefmavro.com) – Roasted Keahole lobster and confit, Big Island abalone on baby leek etuvee.
• 12th Avenue Grill (www.12thavegrill.com) – Big Island red beet gnocchi, Maui Cattle Co. flat iron steak.
• Stage (www.stagerestauranthawaii.com) – Pulled-pork soft tacos, Maui pineapple and macadamia nut chutney crusted pork tenderloin.
• Town (www.townkaimuki.com) – Pork chop with polenta and bitter greens, flank steak with potato and dandelion greens.