Sweet Coronation for Hawaiian Crown PlantationApril 16, 2016, 12:37 AM HST (Updated April 16, 2016, 11:24 AM)
I nearly missed it. It had been a long day, and I was tired and cranky. I was actually looking for another restaurant I had heard about, but was about to give up. And then, through a shop window, I saw a man dipping what looked like slices of pineapple into…could it be melted chocolate? I stood, mesmerized. He caught my eye and waved me in.
As I opened the door to Hawaiian Crown Plantation and Chocolate Factory, the intoxicating smell of warm chocolate drifted toward me. I introduced myself and met Tom Menezes, along with his lovely daughters, Oona Menezes-Miller and Taylor Martines.
Not shy where chocolate is concerned, I asked if I could watch Menezes make more chocolate-dipped pineapples; he happily agreed. And then he let me eat one. The day was looking so much better.
Menezes has been farming for nearly 40 years, and has his own farm above the Alae Cemetery. He’s an expert in the cultivation of pineapples, taro, and cacao.
“I like to say our products are 200 percent Hawaiian – 100 percent grown, and 100 percent manufactured,” Menezes explained.
What Menezes has going is pretty much the epitome of locally-grown/made, as he grows the pineapple, dries it, and dips it in chocolate made from his own cacao. Hawai’i, as it turns out, is the only state where cacao can be grown commercially. Hawaiian Crown was one of the first certified organic cacao farms in the United States.
Although they have a sister store in Waikiki, Menezes said he felt it was time to open one in Hilo
“Downtown Hilo is just exploding. It was time,” according to Menezes.
I bought a box of the dried chocolate-dipped pineapples rings ($7), which were beautifully packaged and made a nice gift (and no, it wasn’t a gift for me).
There are loads of other delicious snacks – Cacao nibs, dried apple bananas, trail mix, mac nuts, and mixed fruit. They also sell coffee.
Hawaiian Crown’s charms do not end with the snacks, though. As we chatted, Martines assembled an acai bowl. This was packed with fruits, granola, apple bananas, mac nuts, shredded coconut, chia seeds, and cacao nibs. Seasonal fruit is added when available; they are drizzled with local honey and mint.
My pal Michele swears by the bowls, which she says fill her up and keep her going with energy.
Also available are smoothies in Pina Colada, Minty Hawaiian, Tropi-Kale, Bomb Berry, Hilo Sunrise and Aloha Mocha ($5 – $6.50). There are baked goods – even gluten-free brownies – and a chocolate banana mini loaf.
Outdoor seating is available, and that’s a perfect spot to enjoy a Taro Burger, Panini, or a salad. They also can accommodate parties outside.
Hawaiian Crown Plantation and Chocolate Factory is located at 160 Kilauea Avenue in Hilo; phone (808) 319-6158. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sundays 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. On-street parking.