Filipino pop-up Barkada and Hawaiian food truck Hapa Howie’s are going brick-and-mortar by teaming up with forthcoming tabletop roleplaying game-themed TPK Brewing at 5051 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Melvin Trinidad (of Barkada PDX) and Kiaha Kurek (of Hapa Howie’s) are part of Portland’s tight-knit Pacific Islander community, and their new collaboration will be called Hapa Barkada—but just don’t call it a “fusion” of cuisines.
Kurek moved to Oregon from Hawaii when she was about 13. She got interested in cooking when her family realized there weren’t a lot of local options for traditional family-style Hawaiian cuisine. Kurek went to college, joined the corporate world, and worked in importing before she grew tired of that lifestyle and decided to start her own food truck, even though she had no experience in hospitality or formal training as a cook.
“I wanted to do something that made me happy. All my recipes are family based, mostly from my father’s side of the family” Kurek says. “I wanted to do traditional recipes, down-home stuff.”
Kurek named Hapa Howie’s after her grandfather and opened her first food truck in 2019. By late 2020, she had three food trucks serving her “aloha-style” Hawaiian comfort food featuring multiple types of musubi, including mochiko chicken, egg, deep-fried tofu, and an elevated shoyu and furikake—all fried up with traditional Spam.
It wasn’t until much later, after a whirlwind romance followed by marriage, when she met Trinidad—her husband’s best friend. They, too, became fast friends with similar interests in food, the same sense of humor, and a tendency to talk to themselves while cooking.
“We have a lot of mutual friends,” Kiaha says. “Pacific Islanders tend to find each other and keep those relationships close. It turns out Melvin knows a lot of the same people I do. We hit it off immediately with our similar values and similar culture.”
Trinidad moved to Portland in 2000. He had a corporate job at Intel but cooked during his free time. While Trinidad was on sabbatical, a friend who owns Café Pispala in Finland invited him to spend two months in the kitchen as sort of a restaurant boot camp experience to see whether he could make it in the industry. Trinidad came out of it with even more passion than he had before and parlayed that into a top-80 finish on Fox network’s MasterChef.
“That was the first glimpse that other people liked my food,” Trinidad says. “I was looking for the next step in my culinary journey, like, what can I do next?”
In 2017, Trinidad started Barkada PDX as a series of high-end, pop-up ticketed dinners at local event venues set to a soundtrack of classic hip-hop spun on vinyl by a DJ. The format was Filipino kamayan-style feasts, where the tables were covered with banana leaves and the entire meal was served at once and enjoyed communally.
After COVID, Barkada shifted to a fast-casual format and kept a more regular weekly schedule, taking over the kitchen at places like Culmination Brewing with special Filipino menus featuring dishes like adobo popcorn chicken and embutido shumai dumplings. That’s how Elliott Kaplan of TPK Brewing found Trinidad and reached out via Instagram earlier this year to see if he would be interested in operating a permanent kitchen in the soon-to-be-former Tabor Bread space.
“I said yes, I want to do this, but I need Kiaha because she is one hell of a business partner, and I need someone who knows how to run a business and can show me the ropes,” Trinidad says.
It was an easy yes for Kurek, who had already decided to close two of her food trucks to focus on a growing catering business. Their shared kitchen Hapa Barkada will serve both Hapa’s and Barkada’s popular dishes and also meld some of them together.
“I hate to say the word ‘fusion’ or ‘fuse,’ but it’s such a complementary cuisine,” Trinidad says.
“I hate the word fusion like Melvin,” Kurek laughs. “I think of it more as a blend because Hawaiian and Filipino food are similar in many ways, and there are different styles to how we do them. But we will be taking really similar dishes and blending them together.”
Their new business name, Hapa Barkada, may also look like another fusion of each operator’s name, but it actually has a deeper significance.
“Barkada in Filipino means ‘best friends,’ and hapa in Hawaiian means ‘mixed,’ so that’s perfect, because a mix of best friends is exactly what we are,” Trinidad says.
TPK Brewing CEO and building owner Elliott Kaplan has given Trinidad and Kurek the freedom to order new kitchen equipment for the brewpub. But it’s the massive wood-fired oven that Tabor Bread built in the center of the space that offers the most exciting possibilities.
“I want to make more of my kalua pork, which is difficult to do from a cart because you slow roast it. We can fit so many in that oven,” says Kurek, who is also looking forward to trying it out for huli huli chicken.
Trinidad plans to fire up his Filipino barbecue skewers, lechon liempo (roasted pork belly) and signature dish chicken inasal, a ginger citrus-marinated and roasted bird.
“We are right at the threshold of the next step of our dreams coming true, Kiaha and I,” Trinidad says, “and TPK Brewing with their beer and gaming concept, we have the same goals aligned.”
TPK Brewing plans to begin construction by the end of the year and open Hapa Barkada by late spring 2023.
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