You can smell the ono grinds coming from Kalei’s Lunchbox, a lunch wagon located in Kahului, Maui. In May 2021, a second location of Kalei’s Lunchbox opened up at the Pukalani Terrace Shopping Center. Kalei’s not only serves up delicious local food, but a daily dose of aloha, hope, and resilience.
“We are excited to open up a second location, which will take our journey full circle, where I started my first restaurant and where my kids were born and raised,” said Aaron Kalei Heath. “We have come a long way with blood, sweat, tears, support, and love. We are so thankful to our customers. Thank you for choosing us, thank you for enjoying our food.”
Aaron Kalei Heath has been in culinary since high school. He started washing dishes at Kula Lodge, attended Maui Culinary, worked as sous chef at the Marriott Ka’anapali and eventually opened Upcountry Café in Pukalani and Café 808 in Kula. Fran, his wife, has a background in hospitality as a wedding and event planner.
When the two got married in 2017 (both of their second marriages) they blended their two families and backgrounds and started over again with very little. Aaron worked 2 jobs on the cooking line and was re-energized, and Fran continued to do her work at the Montage Kapalua as a Supervisor and her company of Aloha Aisles. Together, they blended their backgrounds and experience to open up Kalei’s Lunhbox.
“It’s truly a labor of love,” smiled Fran Heath. “We have a lot of passion and we get so many compliments on our staff for the aloha we give. For us, we are kanaka, it is not just a word- we live it, serve it, and are very proud of it. We mālama everyone that comes. My husband creates and cooks for the kamaʻāina.”
Kalei’s Lunchbox is known for their mochiko chicken, chow fun, homemade hamburger, shoyu chicken, beef stew, and breaded beef and pork teri. “What helps Kalei’s Lunchbox is that the food is always consistent. It is the same recipe, preparation, and no one other than Chef Aaron oversees the recipes. Everything is cooked fresh, marinated, fresh gravies, and a constant cycle of fresh food.”
Kalei’s Lunchbox also offered a Cheap Eats plate for $5 once-a-week to loyal customers. The Cheap Eats plate ranged from roasted pulled pork with gravy, roast beef, cheese steaks and more. But when the pandemic happened, they decided to offer the Cheap Eats plate multiple times a week to take care of the kamaʻāina.
“Sometimes it’s not about the money,” said Fran Kalei. “We have a passion of serving and feeding the community. We take care of our frontline workers. We have always given a discount to firefighters and police in uniform. Since the pandemic, we have expanded the discount to include paramedics, airport police, and lifeguards. We are all in this together.”
Kalei’s Lunchbox also takes part in 2 programs that help feed our kupuna: the Kaunoa Senior Services and the Office of Aging meal voucher program. During the pandemic, they also began offering free plate lunches to their Communities and designated businesses and organizations.
“Last April, we got together with a few friends to feed the hungry,” explains Fran Heath. “Then it became a monthly thing where we donated between 400 to 600 plates a month. In August, we took a break as we lost my 97-year-old mother to COVID. And in September, we decided to feed the Maui Medical Center staff for lunch as a thank you for all they do for our community and in caring for my mom.”
Kalei’s Lunchbox also launched a new campaign for the summer to make sure the keiki and kūpuna are fed during the summer months when school is out.
“We want to give back where we can. When we first started, we started with basically nothing. We thank God for a couple (the Wangs) who believed in our dream and invested in us,” said. Fran Heath. “We are also thankful to OHA Mālama Loans for providing the funding we needed to continue to grow. When you know what it’s like to have nothing, you don’t forget where you come from. And even when we had very little, it didn’t matter as this is our passion, and truly, it is not what you don’t have but what you do with what you do have.”