Every August for the past eight years, Craig Smith, Clem Donahue, and Mike Rienzi and their family and friends have served up island-style grinds at Aloha Festival, a weekend devoted to Pacific Island arts, culture, and entertainment in San Francisco. Years ago, Donahue and Smith lived together on the island of Kaua’i and are still the best of friends. They began participating in Aloha Festival after moving back to the Bay Area.
“It’s like being in Hawai’i for two days,” says Smith of the friendly island vibe at Aloha Festival. “You’re transplanted to the islands, with all the music and food.” Smith, who owns a Bay Area construction company and is trained as a professional chef, also extolls the feeling of ohana (family) at Aloha Festival. Smith’s son, Joseph, works the front of the booth, along with many other kids who’ve grown up attending Aloha Festival.
Clem Donahue echoes the sentiment that Aloha Festival is about ohana. “We all come together as friends and family to work preparing the food and then staff the booth on Saturday and Sunday,” he says. “All the kids help us with the purchasing, prep, and selling of the food. For them, as much as us, it’s a labor of love and excitement. Each year, they get so excited about the event.”
Smith, Donahue, and Rienzi’s booth, affectionately named Mean Ol’ Mike’s Poke Shack, will serve freshly grilled mango chicken, potato mac salad, and their namesake dish: lots of fresh ahi poke, a seasoned raw-fish delicacy that is widely available throughout restaurants and markets in Hawai’i but is rather hard to find in Northern California. Mean Ol’ Mike’s poke is done right. “We start prepping on Friday, cutting 300 pounds of sushi-grade tuna,” says Smith, “but the poke is made to order, in small batches.”
Donahue adds, “Mike makes the best Ahi Poke I’ve ever had, and [Aloha Festival] seemed like a natural place to open a booth and share this amazing dish with everyone.”
The Hawaiian-style food that this group of friends make for the Aloha Festival is truly a labor of love. Profits from the weekend cover their costs and perhaps a weekend vacation for everyone on the Northern California coast. Smith and his friends aren’t in it for the money. They’re in it for the spirit of aloha.
The Aloha Festival features free entertainment and a variety of food and craft offerings from the Pacific Islands. Free workshops include lessons in kapa (bark cloth) making and wood carving, ukulele and slack-key guitar, and readings by Wayne Moniz, the award-winning author of Under Maui Skies.
16th annual San Francisco Aloha Festival
August 7 & 8 2010
10 am to 5 pm
San Francisco Presidio Parade Grounds Directions
Free admission – $10 parking
Sponsored by the Pacific Islanders’ Cultural Association