Love story leads to Hawaiian restaurant in Batavia

Sep 11, 2019

The dining room at Islands Hawaiian Grill in Batavia.
The dining room at Islands Hawaiian Grill in Batavia. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)

Batavia is not quite as far from Hawaii as a United States town can get, but it’s most of the way there.

Yet the Genesee County seat’s newest restaurant is resolutely Hawaiian, offering a menu that reflects the plate lunches and kalua pork popular in the Aloha State and on the West Coast.

Islands Hawaiian Grill, 60 Main St., has been busy since it opened Aug. 18. A full liquor permit will eventually arrive in the 70-seat room.

Hawaiian barbecue chicken gets a marinade of sweet soy and ginger before it’s griddled. Beef ribs get the same, with garlic. Hawaiian kalua pork is lush, smoky braised pork shoulder. Other choices include chicken katsu, a crispy fried panko-crumbed cutlet and garlic butter shrimp.

Diners can mix and match plates from $10 to $14. Appetizers include musubi ($4.99), soy-marinated Spam rolled in sushi rice and seaweed and ohana fried rice ($8.99), with bacon, egg, Spam and scallion.

How it happened is a love story, on skates.

Owner Kourtney Kunichika is from Orange County, Calif., where her father helped a friend start a roller skating rink.

She was on roller skates early, and grew up in a hockey-playing, Japanese American family. Kunichika switched to ice hockey at 9, and later attended Rochester Institute of Technology. She was a forward on the team that won the Division III championship in 2012, and ended her college career as the team’s all-time leader in games played.

While taking a year off college hockey, she played on the Rochester Edge women’s travel team, where she met Caitlin Adams, and they started dating.

Signed as a professional hockey player for the Buffalo Beauts in 2015, Kunichika played for the United States championship three times, winning in 2017.

By the time she retired last year, she already had started putting down roots in Batavia, the hometown of her girlfriend, now wife. While Caitlin teaches in Rochester, Kourtney has worked on the restaurant, drawing from time spent in Hawaii.

“I grew up eating a lot of Hawaiian-style dishes and the recipes handed down from generations,” she said. “There's a lot of Hawaiian food in Southern California, where I'm from, I just could never get it around these parts of New York.”

That’s how she decided to open a Hawaiian restaurant in her wife’s hometown.

“I was really set on doing this in Rochester initially, because it's more culturally diverse. I wasn't sure how well my style of food, being a little different or a little intimidating, would go over,” Kunichika said. “But so far, people are coming to try it. And once they try it, they love it.”

Islands Hawaiian Grill

60 Main St., Batavia (585-483-3113)

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

The plate lunch at Islands Hawaiian Grill, with (clockwise from upper left) white rice, teriyaki beef, teriyaki chicken, panko dried shrimp on fresh shredded cabbage and macaroni salad
The plate lunch at Islands Hawaiian Grill, with (clockwise from upper left) white rice, teriyaki beef, teriyaki chicken, panko dried shrimp on fresh shredded cabbage and macaroni salad. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)
Somen noodle salad with egg, scallion, fishcake and dressing at Islands Hawaiian Grill.
Somen noodle salad with egg, scallion, fishcake and dressing at Islands Hawaiian Grill. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)
Fried musubi, marinated Spam in rice, wrapped in seaweed, crumbed and fried, at Islands Hawaiian Grill.
Fried musubi, marinated Spam in rice, wrapped in seaweed, crumbed and fried, at Islands Hawaiian Grill. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)
Fried rice with bacon and spam, kalua pork and macaroni salad at Islands Hawaiian Grill.
Fried rice with bacon and spam, kalua pork and macaroni salad at Islands Hawaiian Grill. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)

By Andrew Z. Galarneau, Buffalo News