I sat down with Adam Lock on a recent afternoon in Kaka‘ako to talk story about the restaurant he manages, Taste Table. Maybe itʻs his thick mustache and the laid back aloha shirt he sports, but he doesnʻt exude the authoritative personality of a general manager. But as I talk to him in depth about the innovative and experimental restaurant, it’s clear to see he knows his shit and loves it.
Taste, started by Mark “Gooch” Noguchi (former chef of Heʻeia Pier General Store and Deli), husband and wife duo, Poni and Brandon Askew (creators of Eat the Street), and Amanda Corby (owner of Under My Umbrella), is unlike any other restaurant in Hawaiʻi. Every three months, four food vendors are selected to take turns creating the daily menu, offering newbies and regulars alike a variety of food to taste throughout the weeks. This arrangement is mutually beneficial to hungry patrons as well as the quarterly occupants. Most of the selected vendors run their business out of food trucks. At Taste, they now have the opportunity to deliver their culinary repertoire in a brick and mortar space. Alongside these vendors, well-known chefs such as Lee Ann Wong of Top Chef have also contributed to this dynamic establishment.
Below, Lock gives Trades an inside scoop on Taste and what makes this new style of food service thrive.
TRADES HAWAII: If you guys have a system that’s in place, and people already know about it, wouldn’t they come regardless of who is the chef? Because not everyone will be like, “Oh, I know this chef so that’s why I’m coming.” They’ll come here because they know what you guys offer.
Adam Lock: Yes. People will come because it’s Taste—because who’s a part of Taste. They’ll come and at least try. It’s funny, all of our four different vendors each week all have different people who come for them, which is good for me. For me, when I see four different...they’re coming because of that vendor. And yes, I have my regulars who come because we’re Taste. I have people who come everyday because we offer them different food…we’ve just been very fortunate for three quarters to put the tail end that literally resides here in Honolulu in our kitchen. And there’s a lot more out there, it’s just really trying to reveal them. I mean, for instance, you get sous chefs coming in. They’ve worked under an executive chef, they don’t really get to showcase their craft or what they enjoy doing. The cool thing also about this is even if you have a brick and mortar when you’re here, you can’t be too experimental—people expect something. When you expect something out of that, you also have employees that you pay. If you’re being experimental and people aren’t getting that, you’re screwing your employees over. Here, it’s like you’re here one day a week, if that—one day a month, whatever, one day ever…be experimental. It’s your money. Yeah, you bring in a couple of people,yeah you might break even, but at least you know.
So how does it work, they pay you to be here?
Yeah, so they fill out a vendor app on our website. A lot of our vendors too come from "Eat the Street" and "NIGHT MARKET," which are partners here at Taste. So I already have that application so we already know they’re G, they’re business is insured. You want all the papers to be right. We’ve definitely run into situations where the person never been in the kitchen before and we saw that in service. So now we try to push, if that’s the case, if there’s no recommendation that they’re fine, or if we don’t have any of that, then we actually try to consult you with our chef, Gooch. I can tell you right now, I’m not a chef, I’ve never cooked, but being and seeing all the different vendors that I’ve had, I can tell what works. But if you put me back there, I wouldn’t be able to do what those guys do. There’s a lot of evolution of somebody in the kitchen, somebody running a business ‘cause people think when they open a restaurant that people are just going to show up. If you don’t market, if you don’t advertise yourself, it’s not gonna happen.
Is that half the battle?
That’s most of the battle. If you market yourself and advertise yourself before you open it, that will do wonders. And from then on out, it’s getting people back with your hospitality, your ambience, your food, your drinks, whatever it is. But that’s what’s so hard about restaurants. But I think that’s what drives me everyday is I have someone different everyday; I get to see different people everyday. When you have one restaurant, it’s almost stagnant. You get the same shit day in and day out.
How is Taste different from when you guys first opened up?
When I first opened up I literally wouldn’t have a job if I got paid to tell people what we were—I would be well off, I wouldn’t have to work. But today, I was just explaining to a guy what we were, and before, when we first opened, I was doing that probably 30 or 40 times a day. It kind of got a little repetitive. We have a little sign over in the corner, but we were actually gonna put a mission statement, like paint it right here on the wall, but we were like, yeah, people aren’t gonna wanna sit there and read the whole thing.
And it’s kind of cool if they do want to know, to be a little more personable.
And I love to be personable. I think what drives me everyday too, is when I’m here, I’m here—that’s how you help build a community. That’s kind of what we wanna do here too.
What is it like working in Kaka‘ako with the people that you work with?
It’s like a family. Everybody just backs everybody. It’s fun, but it’s sad too because I know there’s going to be an end to it—just this area. They’re going to knock down most of these spots. They’re going to gut this building; they’re knocking down the building next door. Not saying it’s the end for us, but…well they wanna reconstruct this area, it’s called Pinch of Salt. They have to purchase out so they can rebuild. Plus, I don’t wanna be in service when they’re jack hammering that building back there. It’s already enough when they’re doing the sewers over here. It’s so loud and smelly, but that’s another thing—people still come. We’re not about being…we have plastic tables, plastic chairs, so people come here for the food.
Taste’s weekly lineup until the end of November:
Tuesday: Local Stop
Wednesday: Off Da Hook
Thursday: RJ's Pork and Beef
Friday: The Gourmet of Indonesia
667 Auahi St.
Honolulu, HI 96813
10-2:30 PM, occasional nights
For more information, check their website out at http://www.tastetable.com/ and download their app on your smartphone.
Photo: MVMP/Jake Ho