Locals Supporting Local: Russells

This blog is part of a series from Mālama Kauai  & Tasting Kauai, highlighting Kauai restaurants that source locally for their ingredients, sharing their tales of the pandemic and their battle for resiliency. We encourage our readers and fans to support this restaurant as a movement to keep our small businesses who support our local food systems alive.

Cafe Coco, a popular Kauai vegan restaurant, was purchased by PJ Nagaya, who moved from NYC to pursue his dream to serve the community plant based food in 2017. He opened it as Eat Healthy Kauai, currently as Russell’s. And despite its regular name changes over the recent years, the location’s customers have been able to rely on it consistently providing some of the best vegan fare on island. We spoke with PJ about how things have been going and here’s what he had to say.

What’s happened to your restaurant during the pandemic?

We have re-looked at the direction and the aesthetic of the restaurant and decided to change the name to Russell’s to honor the life of the owner’s beloved dog Russell. We also added more comfort food driven dishes and lower price point items to entice non-vegans to try out our food.

We heard about Ha! Coffee Bar loosing their Rice Street location, so we have invited them to come join us at Russell’s. Now we serve the community their favorite coffee drinks together with plant based dishes.

…We realized the importance to keeping it local as much as we can, and help each other out.

Tell us about your local sourcing.

Most of our produce is from local farmers as well as resident friends, which includes papayas, lettuce, sprouts, salad mixed greens, bananas. We also purchase most of our breads from a local bakery. Currently, we are working with 4 produce farmers (one works as a consolidator and she works with multiple farmers) and 1 baker.

The pandemic was an eye opener to many of us. We realized the importance to keeping it local as much as we can, and help each other out. If we can get it locally we will even if it means sometimes we have to let customers know “sorry we do not have this, and that” because farmers do not have them at that moment. It’s also a good way for us to educate customers about how important it is to eat what’s available, geographically and seasonally.

What’s your future vision for local food and restaurants on Kaua’i? How do you think we’re going to get through this together?

By working together, small businesses need to stick together and help each other as much as we can. Tourism is important for our survival, but we need to somehow come up with different ways so we can sustain with or without tourism.

Looking for a Kauai vegan restaurant? For hours, menu, online ordering & more visit Russells.