Running a small, neighborhood restaurant is tough, even in the best of times. But during a pandemic, it can be brutal, especially if you want to hold onto your vision and values while still serving up locally sourced, high-quality food. That’s why The Nook owners Anicea Campanale and Hailey Berkey welcomed the new Hawai‘i Restaurant Card as a way to help the jobless, the local economy and businesses like theirs survive. “It’s a win for the individual who gets the card, a win for the restaurant and a win for the whole economy, especially the farmers and other suppliers,” said Campanale. Berkey added, “This is a great, out-of-the-box, solution-oriented program. It’s a reminder that we have to think creatively to solve the problems we have in this crisis.”
The Nook in Puck’s Alley – Mo‘ili‘ili has a small army of loyal customers who have helped keep the restaurant afloat as it pivoted to take-out orders and lately, outdoor dining. But the owners admit they’re still barely able to survive as they had to lay off staff and take on most of the work themselves. Their brunch and dinner items include local produce whenever possible from Farm Links Hawai‘i, a site that connects restaurants to small farmers statewide. “We’re trying to produce a casual meal with quality ingredients and environmentally sustainable practices,” explained Campanale.
They received a Governor’s Green Business Award in 2015 for their commitment to using biodegradable products and energy and water conservation, which they continue to maintain. But the pandemic has also reminded them of how vulnerable low-wage workers like servers and kitchen staff are to layoffs and exploitation. “When I was working in the kitchen of even high-end restaurants, I almost always had two jobs to make ends meet,” Campanale added.
Campanale does most of the cooking (she trained at the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in San Francisco) while Berkey handles the business end and beverages. The two best friends have known each other since the 2nd grade, growing up in Northern California and had always dreamed of starting a business together. That dream became a reality when they both ended up in Hawai‘i (Berkey graduated from UH- Mānoa). They said they started the restaurant in 2014 with the goal of being a force for good in the community. “We’ve always felt that you should have meaning behind what you’re doing —not just make money,” said Berkey. “For us to run a business just to make money isn’t fulfilling. It has to have purpose.”
What do they see for The Nook’s future? “We’d be willing to reopen more if the COVID-19 case numbers come down, but our indoor space is pretty small. If we’re both sick, that’s it. Right now, we’re trying to survive and stay healthy. Our story isn’t unique. Everyone is hurting in the restaurant industry. We feel like local government is doing the best it can. This virus isn’t going away, so everybody just needs to wear their masks and follow the mandates.”