Business

A Rarity, Southern Comfort Food in Hilo

April 5, 2012, 1:28 AM HST
* Updated April 5, 5:50 PM
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Downtown Hilo has more than a few good eats to choose from on a busy lunch hour.

Its newest addition is serving up comfort food with a distinctly Southern flair. Popolo’s is having a soft opening on Thursday, April 5, and will welcome all to their cozy hideaway for gumbo, grits and fried chicken and waffles. The brothers plan to have their grand opening during the week of Merrie Monarch.

Owners and brothers, Shedric Green and Dean Wyatt have been cooking up this idea for a little while now.

Green, a recent transplant to Hawaiʻi, is the youngest of four children. His eldest brother Wyatt, is the financier, while Green provides the “elbow grease.”

Green relocated from Texas in September 2011 to join his brother on the Big Island. Both learned to cook from their mother, grandmother, extended family and friends.

This shared restaurant venture is a dream-turned-reality for Green. Being part-owner of his own restaurant is a big change for this veteran in the restaurant business.

“I’ve done it all,” he said with a big smile. For 25 years, Green held every position from janitor to head chef and worked his way up in rank.

Photo by Kristin Hashimoto.

Both brothers will be cooking and serving in this quaint little space. For now, they will forgo hiring staff, until this cuisine takes hold on Hilo town. Menu items include BBQ fried chicken, meatloaf, mac ‘n cheese, collard greens cooked with ham hocks, hush puppies, sweet potato pie, gumbo, smoked ribs, smoked turkey, Po’boy sandwiches and more. There’s even a keiki menu. Prices are reasonable and accessible to any budget, with items ranging from $1.50 for crispy rolls to $24.95 for a “Doggie Bag Rib Dinner.” This dinner comes with an entire slab of smoked ribs, choice of two side dishes, two breads and one dessert.

The rather unique name of Popolo’s is Hawaiian for a black berry. Local and indigenous culture may also recognize the name as a reference to darker skinned people. The name was Wyatt’s idea.

“We get a lot of different reactions [about the restaurant name]” said Green. When asked how he identifies with his race, he stated, “I’m black, I’m not from Africa, I’m from America.” While the name might evoke uneasiness in others, the brothers are playful and overtly tongue-in-cheek regarding its moniker.

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Green and Wyatt have worked to transform the space into a restaurant since November. An outside courtyard overflowing with vegetation, offers patrons a slice of a jungle amidst the concrete mere steps away.

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The colors in the restaurant include baby blues and yellows. Patrons can choose an indoor or outdoor table and play with the cute food shaped salt and pepper shakers on each table.  Liquor is strictly B.Y.O.B. There will be a corking fee for guests that prefer wine to their selection of sodas.

Despite the pressure and hustle of readying a restaurant for its debut, Green seemed relaxed and slightly pensive. The financial risk of a new food business in this economy gave the brothers pause. However, both feel that the food quality, its uniqueness, great location and authenticity of Southern cooking will draw customers.

Popolo’s is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. They are open Sundays for brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and are located at 264 Keawe Street in downtown Hilo. If you’re looking to avoid the lottery like parking spaces on the street, a spacious gravel lot is located behind the building.

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