Makers & Tasters Marks Milestone for Food Fests
For Honolulu foodies, Eat the Street food truck rallies are already an island institution. Husband and wife entrepreneurs Poni and Brandon Askew launched them five years ago under the Street Grindz banner, but this week their business is graduating into a permanent resident of Kakaako.
Following a preview event tonight, a very special “Best of Eat the Street” event will be held tomorrow at the former Fisherman’s Wharf location along Ala Moana Boulevard at Ward Avenue. But Friday’s festival will also serve as the Grand Opening of Makers & Tasters.
It’s impressive how much things have grown since the first, modest Eat the Street in a small lot on Kapiolani Boulevard in January 2011.
“We started with a network of 12 vendors, and today we work with over 250 local street food vendors,” Poni said last night on Bytemarks Cafe. “In addition to that, we work with about 300 retail vendors, so our network has grown to well over 500 different small locally owned businesses here on the island.”
They’ve easily organized over 250 food and retail events over the years (which include the popular Honolulu Night Market events launched in September 2012). And their two main monthly events now draw an average of 8,000 to 10,000 people.
“Our mission and our goal as a company is to continue to provide as much opportunity and outreach for these small businesses, and we constantly are trying to meet the demands of the growing industry,” Poni Askew said.
In fact, they anticipate the market will grow another 50 percent in the next three years, meaning even more businesses and more people hoping to support them.
“That’s why we started going to the idea and the route of providing daily opportunities, which allows us to provide more than two events a month to our vendors,” she explained. “That’s what Makers & Tasters is all about, these daily opportunities.”
And while Eat the Street events have moved around over the years — including satellite events in other neighborhoods — they are finally able to put down some roots at the Fisherman’s Wharf site.
“We were able to secure from OHA that property to integrate a full time food truck park in Kakaako,” Poni Askew explained. “OHA is working on a master plan in Kakaako, and in the mean time, we have the opportunity and the privilege to secure the lot for three and a half years — or as long as it takes for them to finish their master plan.”
Along with a permanent home comes with the chance to invest in some infrastructure and creature comforts. The new location covers 66,000 square feet, for one, which means plenty of parking for day-to-day operations. They’ve installed a 3,000-square-foot wooden deck with picnic tables and umbrellas offering a picturesque view of the waterfront.
And the Porta Potties are a thing of a past.
“We’ve grown up now, we have legit bathrooms,” she laughed. “Nice seating, an outdoor bar, bathroom space, open seven days a week serving lunch and dinner.”
And as big a step as this is, the Askews are still looking to take things even further.
First of all, the Makers & Tasters brand will now take top billing.
“We’ve been known as Street Grindz all these years, and at the end of the day, we work with far more than street food vendors,” Poni Askew said. “We’re working with small mom and pop shops, we’ve worked with artisans and artists, and our company is more well rounded — a makers-supporting agency rather than a street food-supporting agency.”
And they describe the Kakaako location as their “flagship location,” suggesting that there will soon be more. Ideally, six more.
“We are looking for other permanent locations around the island,” she said. “We’ve seen the demand out in Mililani, we’ve seen the demand out in Ewa Beach, and we know that there is an opportunity to provide this type of outdoor eatery throughout the island.”
Poni Askew reiterated that it’s really hard for food vendors to have predictable sales operating on the road. Permanent sites provide dependable daily transactions as customers know where and when they’ll be able to find them.
And the company is even trying to become part of the pathway to help would-be vendors turn their dreams into reality. Tonight’s event is the first of many fundraising channels Makers & Tasters will tap.
“It’s our version of a Kickstarter,” Poni Askew explains. “With the money we’re looking to invest in some incubator spaces for vendors who can’t neccessarily afford food trucks right now, but we want to be able to put them in a space.”
You can listen to our interview with Poni and Brandon Askew here: