Sip a Brew for the Right Reason

Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Late last year, I saw a social-media post about a small craft-brew tasting room in Kailua that occasionally featured pop-ups for bagels, tacos or pizza night as the tasting room didn’t have its own kitchen. It was the bagels that caught my attention, as one of my standby lunches during the work week was bagel sandwiches. (Sometimes topped with fat-free cream cheese and lox or sun-dried tomatoes or Niçoise olive-based tapenade; or sometimes topped with cold cuts and cheese like any other sandwich.) I was particularly interested in the Montreal-style bagel which is typically sweeter and denser than its New York counterparts.

I did some research on Grace in Growlers which had actually opened for business some four years earlier; I found that it wasn’t like your usual craft-beer tasting room. For starters, owners Tim and Holly Veling originally moved to O‘ahu after falling in love with the islands during their Maui honeymoon. When Holly’s employer, AAA Insurance, offered a transfer to the 50th from San Diego, they jumped at the chance; two weeks later, they were in Hawai‘i.

Within three years of arriving to the 50th, the Velings set up a non-profit foundation — ONEninetynine ( Its first community service project was Laundry Love – the couple took over a laundromat in Käne‘ohe every other Saturday and paid for every patron’s load of laundry focusing on the houseless population. Initially, ONEninetynine funds came from monies received from collecting recyclables of local restaurants. But now, their tasting room is the primary source of funding. Yes, Grace in Growlers is 100% non-profit with proceeds also funding five children living in poverty overseas. Sip your delicious craft brew and feel good doing so.

At first, our primary interest was Grace’s “Sleeve” – a four-pack of bagels. But unfortunately, they weren’t being sold on the day we decided to pop in. So instead, we purchased a couple of open-faced bagel sandwiches along with a 64-ounce growler (a container or vessel used to transport beer) of Koa Brewing’s Espresso Bean stout (the Honolulu Liquor Commission allows alcohol take-out as long as food is also purchased).

Grace in Growlers craft beer taps. (Photos by Ryan Tatsumoto)

And though its primary libation is craft beer, Grace in Growlers isn’t like the usual craft-beer establishment. Upon arrival, the staff first checks your ID then gives you an electronic “key” that tracks your purchases; you self-serve by four-ounce, eight-ounce or 12-ounce portions and are stopped once you hit the 36-ounce limit for the day. Management wants you to imbibe responsibly; towards this end, initially the main seating area had communal tables to encourage patrons to converse with one another (and thus imbibe more gradually and consciously). For the same reason, there are no flat-screen monitors.

However, due to COVID-19 and spacing requirements, seating is now mainly four-tops appropriately spaced six feet apart. By the way, that Koa Brewing Espresso Bean stout was delicious! If you plan to make a trip to Grace in Growlers, you can always see what’s currently on tap at

And because Grace in Growlers still doesn’t have a full-sized kitchen, the tasting room encourages you to bring food from neighboring restaurants that, in turn, give discounts for Grace in Growlers customers. In fact, some of the eateries, like Kono’s, will actually walk your order over to Grace in Growlers.

Empty Elle’s Bagels

About two years after Grace in Growlers opened, additional space became available as The Curb in Kailua vacated the space fronting Hahani Street. So Grace expanded with an outdoor-seating area and an interior that looked like, well, Grandma’s house complete with flowered wallpaper and sofas along with vintage lamps and chandelier.

An assortment of Empty Elle’s Bagels – (from the front) poppy seed, everything and plain.

For whatever reason, the interior then had a complete renovation, shedding the look of Grandma’s house as a faux bagel truck has now replaced Grandma’s sofa. Empty Elle’s currently sells open-face bagel sandwiches smeared with an assortment of cream cheeses topped with Waimänalo tomatoes or Big Island lemon butter and Kula black raspberry jam or hummus with spicy pickles or reverse-bagel sandwiches like their “JLT” with Jerky Labs’ crisp beef jerky, lettuce and tomatoes. The tasting room also sells four-packs of bagel sleeves  – you choose one flavor that’s sold in a four-pack with either white-sesame, black-sesame or poppy- seed coated, plain or the everything bagel from 8 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon (unless they run out). The bagel sandwiches are also available on Thursdays and Fridays once the beer-tasting room opens.

Pizza Anyone?

Farmhouse Pizza’s street corn pizza.

Three days a week, Farmhouse Pizza does a pop-up within Grace; it offers a long rectangular flatbread pizza to nosh on while sampling your craft-brewed beer. You can dine-in while sipping a craft brew or take-out — though these items are best enjoyed right on the spot. Those flatbread pizzas have one of the best crusts I’ve sampled on the island, with just a touch of char on the edges, a very crackling, crisp exterior and chewy interior. We sampled both the “Street Corn” with roasted fresh corn, poblano peppers and onions on a lime crema and topped with fresh cilantro and queso fresco (a semisoft, white Mexican cheese) and “The Chimi” with standard tomato sauce topped with fresh spinach, bell peppers and BBQ pulled pork and homemade chimichurri (a savory Argentinean sauce or marinade). I may have to find more reasons to shop at Target in Kailua since Grace in Growlers is right across the street!

Note: ONEninetynine’s mission is to bridge the gap between the un-churched and the local church by being involved in both the local community/world, building relationships with individuals and pointing to the local church. The Christian-based non-profit’s initiative defined: 1) The power or opportunity to do something before others do. 2) The energy and desire to do something. 3) A plan or program that is intended to solve a problem.  

Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (


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