DOWNTOWN—It’s a gloomy afternoon on Marin Lane on the edge of Chinatown, but the intermittent rain and cold north wind have done nothing to dampen the spirits of Kate Wagner, owner of the new eatery Not Just Desserts. The restaurant uses locally-sourced products as a rule, buying imported items only when absolutely necessary.
“Give me a minute,” Wagner calls from kitchen. “I just need to get these in the oven.” Wagner muscles two large pans into the heat and emerges smiling cheerfully. “Meatloaf!” she explains.
The Hawaii Island native studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and studied all things chocolate in Belgium before becoming a chef for New York Trust and its elite executives and clients. After 9/11, Wagner’s apartment was condemned (she lived across the street from Ground Zero at the time of the attacks) and the decision was made to return to Hawaii.
During her career as a chef, Wagner has opened 15 restaurants across the United States. “14 of which,” she says proudly, “are still open.”
She opened the Starpoint Café in Chinatown with moderate success before deciding to focus her efforts on local farmers markets and her catering business. Working regularly beside Oahu’s growers, Wagner’s love for local ingredients flourished. Her family’s agricultural background on Hawaii Island is certainly a large part of that affinity.
“It’s really about quality and sustainability,” she says, smiling but serious. She rattles off a host of local growers she uses, including Nalo Greens, North Shore Cattle Company, and Naked Cow Creamery.
“It’s not that I’m a health freak or anything,” Wagner explains. “I just think that quality of ingredients translates into quality of life.”
Indeed, Wagner refers to her approach to classic Neopolitan cuisine as “clean,” meaning that she uses no artificial flavors or colors or processed foods. She uses all natural sweeteners like mango and agave for her confections, avoiding processed sugars. She cites high rates of diabetes and other health problems in Hawaii as her motivation to provide tasty, healthy foods to her customers. She is herself a cancer survivor and is keenly aware of the importance of eating healthy.
And the number of her customers is encouraging. “Everyone down here has been so supportive,” she says of her new neighbors, long established businesses like Murphy’s Bar & Grill and O’Toole’s Irish Pub. “We’ve been very fortunate.”
She already enjoys a regular crowd from the nearby nursing school and other area businesses.
“This location is ideal,” she beams. “And our landlord Hawaii National Bank has been incredible in helping make this happen.” Wagner says she is excited to participate in Chinatown functions such as block parties and the monthly First Friday.
Recent menu items have included roasted garlic chicken, meatloaf, turkey risotto, and pork tenderloin. Vegan and vegetarian meals are also on offer daily. The dessert menu at Not Just Desserts changes and is irresistible to any sweet tooth, with items like key lime cheesecake and white chocolate bread pudding. One female customer walked in as Kate Wagner was discussing her venture.
“Oh my goodness,” said the soon-to-be regular customer. “My office loves sweets. This is awesome.”
“It’s just me in here,” says Wagner later, referring to her sole proprietorship. Barista Adam Glick helps out in the kitchen and in the dining room, which is modestly appointed and quite clean. Even in the highly competitive restaurant business, Not Just Desserts has a great chance to become a Downtown institution.
“I think we have something to add,” says Wagner.
Menu updates are available daily at Kate Wagner’s Facebook page. Free delivery is offered for Downtown addresses.
Not Just Desserts
110 Marin Lane
Open Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Not Just Desserts