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Kama’aina Grill brings Hawaii to Bremerton

Kama’aina Grill owner Pulé Dollente is all smiles. - Kevan Moore
Kama’aina Grill owner Pulé Dollente is all smiles.
— image credit: Kevan Moore

Shipyard workers and others who find themselves in Bremerton’s Harborside District have been raving about the Kama’aina Grill ever since it opened Feb. 8.

Owners Pulé and Val Dollente came to Washington several years ago from Oahu and the name of the restaurant reflects their Hawaiian roots. There are various translations, but it essentially means “people who have ties with the island.”

“I’m from town and (Val’s) from the North Shore area,” Pulé said. “Basically our flavors are from two families combined into what we’ve come up with. She has her recipes from what was passed on to her and I’ve got what was passed on to me and we kinda blended it together. You got real Hawaiian BBQs and you’ve got ones that have never had ties to Hawaii and just throw it out there. If you’ve never been to Hawaii you wouldn’t know what it is.”

The combination that the Dollentes have come up with puts smiles on customers’ faces and doesn’t leave anybody hungry.

“I feed you the way I eat,” Pulé joked. “If I give you one scoop of rice, man, I don’t want you to sue me!”

Rice and macaroni salad are Hawaiian staples and Pulé takes both seriously. When asked what the secret to good macaroni salad is, he says a lot of it has to do with taking pride in what you do.

“Don’t rush it,” he says. “If you rush it, make sure you maintain consistency. If I’ve made a mistake and it’s big batch, I’m not gonna serve it. My grandma always said, ‘Never serve anything you’re not willing to eat.’ Bless her heart, I’m not. A lot of its TLC and pride in what you do.”

It seems so simple — noodles, mayonnaise, some carrot, onions and a couple other ingredients — but sometimes the simplest things can easily go wrong.

“You can screw it up easily,” Pulé says. “I’ve done it before many times. But now I put so much love into I think it’s working fine.”

Big crowds and growing lines seem to support that assertion. One woman at the counter this week was in for the third day in a row. Pulé asked her how she was doing and where her boyfriend was. She said he was at work and she was taking him food. She’s not alone. There is already a long list of regulars coming in day after day.

“We love coming here because of the people,” Pulé said. “Everybody’s real nice so every morning we look forward to coming here. We’ve been here every day since we opened. Our main thing in Hawaii is family. Everybody’s considered family back home. And so here we treat everybody the same way regardless if they don’t like us or not. We treat everybody the same way.”

Pulé has an especially deft touch when it comes to dealing with customers.

“If you come here ticked off, you go home happy,” he says. “I can read their body language and tell if they’re having a bad day. So, I just throw ‘em crap and then everybody’s laughing. We’re noisy in here. When it’s shipyard time, this is where the party is at.”

The shipyard workers come for the rice and mac salad along with kalua pork, lau lau, lomi salmon, pulehu steak and shrimp, various loco mocos, spam masubi and much more. To the uninitiated, it may seem overwhelming, but the folks at the Kama’aina Grill are more than happy to walk newcomers through the ropes with samples and suggestions. Hawaiian food draws on Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino and other cuisines

“It’s like all of those flavors into one, but it’s basic and simple,” Pulé said. “And then we, of course, added rice and the mac salad and it became what it is today. Nothing fancy.”

Speaking of simple, Spam plays a big role in Hawaiian cuisine. First introduced in 1937, it is wildly popular in Hawaii and Pulé said it is affectionately known there as “our prime rib.”

When the Dollentes moved to Washington in 2000 and started hosting barbecues, a lot of neighbors encouraged them to start up a restaurant. Then they started checking out street fairs and decided to give it a go.

“We got hooked on street fairs,” Pulé said. “It got so big that we needed a place to prep the volume that we were about to push.”

Pulé said they gave a couple of restaurants a shot, but weren’t very successful. They came upon the small Harborside location years ago, but weren’t very impressed.

“I guess it was a blessing because I found it again on Craig’s List last year and it kinda fit what we were looking for,” Pulé said. “It was like a calling, you know, and we took a shot at it. We restructured our business and did things a lot differently. We look at everything that goes out and if it doesn’t look good we don’t do it because everything is made fresh. So far, it’s been successful. We’re blessed. We’ve got good support and a good following. There are a lot of good people out here. Lots of good people.”

The Kama’aina Grill, located at 208 1st Street, is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Daily specials are listed on the restaurant’s Facebook page and orders can be called in for pickup by dialing 360-377-1808.

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