Entrepreneur, Kuhio Grille
Selected to be part of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color Business Center’s Small Business Marketing Bootcamp and Accounting Software Troubleshooting Lab; financial counseling client
Lauren Araki and her family have a long history of entrepreneurship. Her parents, Samuel and Nelline, opened Kuhio Grille in Hilo, Hawaii in 1995, and she and her two sisters grew up doing everything from dishwashing, prep work, front of house, and cashiering. That entrepreneurial spirit can be traced further back to her grandmother who was the original maker of the “one-pound laulau” (cooked taro leaves with filling)—made with extra taro leaves from the family’s farm—that Kuhio Grille has become famous for.
In 2019, Lauren and her sisters, Shannon and Erin, opened Kuhio Grille’s second location on Oahu, bringing the eatery’s homemade comfort dishes and desserts to more customers. To this day, Lauren’s uncle Derrick (Samuel’s brother) farms the taro leaves for the laulau for both Hilo and Honolulu locations.
“Because of our farming background, we’re well aware of local sustainability and try to support what’s here in the community as much as we can,” Lauren said. “We strive to have a restaurant that our community is proud to support and believe that can only be done when you support your community as much as they support you.”
Lauren’s business journey hasn’t been easy, especially when it comes to the social expectations of being a business owner, mother, wife, and friend. “I’m spending over 80 hours a week working,” she explained. “Figuring out a balance was—and still is— a challenge. If you find a good support system—family, friends, and other women business owners—it’s going to help.”
Lauren has also been able to share entrepreneurial experiences with her two children—ages 13 and 22—by having them work in the family business. “It’s definitely good for every child to see how hard their parents work and be involved in it too. That way they see how to make their own money. It’s good to teach them those things—money and hard work,” she said.
Now, after 27 years of business, Lauren’s parents are finally able to step back since Lauren and her sisters have taken the helm—something she’s extremely proud of. Additionally, the opening of the Honolulu location was a huge milestone for her and her family as well as the community. “I really want to be able to continue building a legacy for my family and have a place where we can employ the families who have been with us for years. Some have been with us for so long now their kids are working with us. We want to have a place where you can tell your kids and grandkids stories like, ‘Hey, remember that time we ate at Kuhio Grille...’ I like knowing that we have customers that started coming to us after they got married, had kids, and those kids are now coming to us with their families. It’s amazing to see that growth and to be a part of it. It’s a wonderful thing to have—that kind of community that grows up with you.”
In 2021, Lauren was part of the inaugural cohort of Central Pacific Bank’s WE by Rising program through which she learned about the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center. She has since received financial counseling and participated in the Small Business Marketing Bootcamp, Accounting Software Troubleshooting Lab, and various webinars.
“These services helped me improve my understanding on each topic,” Lauren said. “I can sit down and do ‘YouTube university,’ but being able to have someone who’s actually done it and is teaching me one-on-one, even being available after for questions, you can’t put a dollar amount on that.”
Lauren’s goals for the business include continuing her family’s legacy, employing more families, and continuing to feed and support communities. She also hopes to be able to offer her products nationally and internationally.
To her fellow woman entrepreneurs and small business owners, Lauren offers the following advice: “Don’t give up. If that’s your goal, stick with it and find others like you that have the same goals and help to lift each other up. Lastly, reach out to the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center and find out about their many services and classes to help you reach your business goals.”