The Ask

Choose a relevant, local issue in Oregon and find subjects willing to share their story via photography, audio, video, and writing to highlight the issue.

The Answer

I decided to focus on the expression of culture in the Eugene area, with an emphasis on the beautiful and unique Hawaiian culture. I was able to meet the owner of an authentic Hawaiian food truck, and talk to many lovely women and men who practice hula dancing at a nearby studio.

I shot a video at a local hula studio, where people of all backgrounds come to share the traditional dances of Hawaii.

Kalani’s Island Style Grinds

The savory smell of pineapple chicken and teriyaki beef floats through the air in downtown Eugene. Cars speed by as meat sizzles on the grill, waiting to be served. Customers approach the order window of Kalani’s Curbside “Island Style Grinds” during the lunch rush, ready to eat their favorite Hawaiian-fusion meals. If it weren’t for a risky decision many years ago combined with a love for sharing food, this popular food truck might have never existed. As the 18th anniversary since opening the truck approaches, the owner and chef, Dale “Kalani” San Jose reflects on what it took to get here.

Kalani was born in the Hawaiian Islands, where he grew up cooking in the kitchen with his mom. This is where he learned family recipes and discovered his passion for food, creating exotic flavors, and sharing these masterpieces with others. He says, “If my food can make someone smile when they eat it, then my job is done.” His family-friend and only coworker, Janise Biehler, confirms how happy his food makes people and that it has even influenced her own cooking. “He’s taught me to cook flavors I never could before.”

In Hawaii, he got started in the food industry early on. From washing dishes, owning a café, and even working at a bar where he was called the “Singing Bartender” due to his beautiful voice. Kalani originally left the Islands ‘for a better education.’ Not his own, but for his four kids who doubled as his “guinea pigs” to test his cooking. After arriving in Oregon all those years ago, he said the first thing he noticed was how bland the food culture was. This sparked his interest in what he could do to change that. Kalani bounced between different managerial positions at local businesses, but it wasn’t until one restaurant he worked at closed its doors that he realized his true potential. He thought to himself, “I could get another manager’s position somewhere else and continue to be told what to do and what to make… or I can take a risk and start my own thing.” He realized he could greatly influence the food presence in Eugene, all while sharing the cuisine he loves. After wrestling with this idea, Kalani went out, bought a food truck, and the rest is history.

As for the future, Kalani plans on continuing to cook every week for his loyal customers, cater local events, and appear at festivals like the Oregon Country Fair. Even his children who are now fully grown, visit their dad weekly to get some of the Hawaiian food they grew up eating. Kalani never regrets moving to Oregon and taking a chance to share his passion, and as long as he and his customers are happy, there is no reason to change anything.