Moku Roots leads the ‘farm to table to farm’ movement with a commitment to healthy, zero waste food
A little restaurant in sunny Lahaina has made waves with tasty local options that are healthy for the body and the Earth. Since opening in May, Moku Roots has been serving vegetarian fare in an almost entirely zero-waste process, and the community has taken note. “We were so much busier from day one than we ever imagined. And it’s only growing, ”said Erica Gale, owner, who, along with her partner Alexa Caskey, has taken a strong approach to running the zero waste restaurant that serves delicious local cuisine.
“Everyone knows the term farm-to-table,” Gale said when I sat down with her, “but we do farm-to-table to farm, and that bridges that gap.” All of the compost created in the store goes back to Caskey’s farm, Mala ‘Akala in Launiupoko, where they grow organically managed vegetables which are then used in the restaurant.
“We are doing everything we can to go zero waste and eliminate as much waste as possible,” Gale said. “We are able to eliminate the waste of input products because we get everything from our farmers. You don’t need to have your avocados wrapped or your fruit in plastic. Working in the service industry for years, Gale was able to see how much waste a single party could generate. I knew there was a better way, she thought.
Women have incorporated a sustainable and iconic solution to the problem of disposable packaging. According to Gale, “We’ve designed our menu so that most things are hand-held, and so all the sandwiches, wraps, buns, that sort of thing, we’ll wrap them in taro foil.” A regular customer even said he cooked and ate the taro leaves his sandwiches were wrapped in.
For things that aren’t portable, like salads and curries, the store doesn’t offer convenient single-use packaging. “We have these reusable cash boxes, and you can buy one for $ 10, and you can put it on deposit, so if you want to bring it back, we’ll refund your money,” Gale said. “We don’t use anything single-use. We have bamboo spoons, also on deposit. Same thing with our mason jars, a deposit of $ 3. Customers can also bring their own containers.
The response to the restaurant’s lack of unnecessary products has been “really, really good for the most part”. A few people balked at the added cost if they weren’t aware of the restaurant’s stance on single-use disposables, “and I get it,” Gale said. “But we are holding on.” It’s a strong and ultimately courageous choice for a business, and Moku Roots is the only restaurant to make it.
“It’s something so different so some people are a little confused,” Gale said, but “for the most part people are so excited. We have a large local audience, but also tourists come and say to themselves. : “Wow, we need that in California.” It’s really cool to see this change of mindset. I think now is the time when people are more receptive to it. difference: between composting, the lack of packaging on their incoming products and the absence of single-use waste, every day the store generates a tiny bin the size of a bathroom.
That doesn’t even take into account the food, which is fresh, organic, and local, with plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, and has multicultural and ever-changing options. “I would say about 90% of our menu is vegan; our chef, Nick, is vegan, and she’s the one who comes up with a lot of the recipes, but we have eggs and cheese on our menu. Real eggs and real cheese, ”added Gale.
“Our biggest seller by far is our taro burgers,” Gale told me. They obtain several hundred pounds of wetland taro from farmers in Keanae and use their homemade coconut flour as ingredients. Moku Burgers have become so popular that other restaurants, like Cool Cat Cafe and Captain Jack’s Island Grill, have started buying them in bulk.
“We do a lot of local spins on things like falafel, using local produce,” Gale said. In their falafel, “probably our second best seller”, they use cassava instead of chickpeas. They do promotions every day based on what’s growing and try to mix it up. They use homemade ulu whole wheat bread for sandwiches and naan bread, and have themed nights with vegetarian sushi and Indian food.
With ‘punk-rock, tattooed and vegan chef Nick’, the girls experiment with recipes, many of which are inspired by Gale’s travels around the world, from Dubai to Vietnam. “We try to change about 20% of our menu every month,” she said. “We just want to keep it cool and shake it up.”
Although her partner, Caskey, is a vegetarian, Gale herself enjoys spearfishing and eats hunted meat. “Most of the people who come in aren’t vegetarians or vegans, they’re just looking for something healthy,” Gale said.
Seven months later, the owners have done some catering, started producing their popular taro burgers on a larger scale, and are talking about somewhere else, perhaps on the other side of the island. These women go everywhere – and take us with them.
We all know we need to do better, but sometimes it can be difficult, especially when our day to day life is just easy to grab the plastic fork or the disposable coffee cup. Many restaurateurs, dismayed by the plastics that wash up on our beach, have made the jump to compostable products. It’s a laudable start, but compostable products only decompose in commercial facilities, which Maui does not have, so single-use products end up in the landfill anyway.
Moku Roots bravely takes this responsibility a step further and simply does away with the convenience and one-time use option while providing an attractive and reasonable alternative. Sometimes we need someone to force our hand and be the change we all want to see. In this way, Moku Roots leads the charge for a truly more sustainable Maui.
“It’s really important to vote with your dollar,” Gale said. “When you support us, you support this zero waste movement. No one else is really committed to it like us. It’s a really cool thing to be a part of.
335 Keawe Street # 211, Lahaina
Open Monday to Saturday 8 am to 8 pm;
Sun. 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Images courtesy of Instagram / Moku Roots