A recent visit to Kona Brewing Company in Hawaii Kai at Koko Marina Shopping Center on Oahu was remarkable for a few reasons. First among them was realizing it was just my second time at the brewpub since its opening in 2003 (I grew up in Hawaii Kai, but I have been a Honolulu Downtowner for 23 years). Second was how busy Kona Brewing was. I was also truly impressed with the quality of the food we ordered.
We’ll note here that in May 2023, Kona Brewing Company and its selection of craft brews and hard seltzers was rebranded as Kona Big Wave. The sign outside the Koko Marina location retains the original name. “Rebranding” takes time, it seems.
Kona Brewing Hawaii Kai location perks
Kona Brewing is an established “anchor store” at the otherwise smallish retail and dining destination of Koko Marina at Oahu’s southeastern tip in the morning shadow of the popular Koko Crater hiking trail. There are movie theaters there, too, but I haven’t entered a cinema since long before the pandemic. I won’t guess at how much business they see. The shopping center itself sees fairly brisk business, due in large part to its proximity to popular Hanauma Bay (Hawaii nonresidents need reservations) and spectacular views of the Ka Iwi Coastline about a mile up Kalanianaole Highway. Koko Marina offers many plate lunch joints, sushi places, ocean activity outfitters, and kitschy clothiers.
Kona Brewing is a “Please Wait to Be Seated” establishment. I expect this was a policy made necessary by the pandemic and that it proved efficient. It wasn’t a hassle and it took just a few moments for the amiable host to secure a table for us on the lanai overlooking the working marina. Families in life vests boarded speedboats for thrill rides on watercraft as we took our seats and perused the drinks menu. We’d just come from a round at Hawaii Kai Golf Course. I went with a simple cocktail, my companions went with frosty Kona brews.
Kona Brewing Hawaii Kai menu
To refuel after a several hours in the blazing Ka Iwi Coast sun, I opted for the Manini Meat & Rice with roasted kalua pig. There’s a shoyu chicken option as well. “Manini” is Hawaiian for “small”. I ended up taking about half of it home. It was ample and delicious. I consider myself somewhat of a kalua pig connoisseur, and I was not disappointed. My mates went with Shrimp Tacos (three, huge, with a mac salad side) and the Cajun chicken sandwich (also huge, mac on the side). They cleaned their plates.
I supposed we lucked into our plum waterfront table because the open-air restaurant and bar was full when we arrived. The crowd thinned in the 90-or-so minutes of our late lunch. I’m certain the friendly servers were relieved, somewhat, after what was clearly a strong lunch rush. We kept our server, Malia, busy over the course of the meal and rounds of drinks.
Kona Brewing Company was founded in Kona on Hawaii Island (the Big Island) in 1994. Its product line has expanded impressively. Its national market share has increased exponentially due in no small part to its acquisition by Anheuser Busch/InBev in 2020. It had already grown impressively before that deal went down.
Part of the Kona Brewing Company rebranding involves the creation of a new television and streaming commercial campaign that features two big local braddahs speaking directly into the camera, directly to craft brew enthusiast viewers. It’s awkwardly dignified (on purpose), irreverent, and one spot even features professional surfing legend and 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater (stick to surfing, GOAT). It’s delightful, and a fairly accurate depiction of Hawaii’s perceived and mostly true, laid-back atmosphere and attitudes.
Our HAT Blog “definitely-not-a-restaurant-critic” opinion is an enthusiastic recommendation. The waterfront location is ideal for visitors to Oahu’s Southeast Shore. The food is delicious. The brews, hard seltzers, and cocktails are excellent. The service was warm and friendly. It’s possible that I’m partial as an “H.K. kid”, but I’ll own that. No notes.