Photo: Donato and Desiree Loperfido
Donato and Desiree Loperfido in the kitchen of their cafe, Bocconcino, in Kakaʻako. - Photo: Jason Lees

Desiree Kanae Loperfido and her husband, Chef Donato Loperfido, are building on their vision to bring Italy to Hawaiʻi. The couple operates Flavors of Italy LLC, a licensed importer and distributor of alcohol and spirits specializing in a wide range of wines and cheese.

As a Native Hawaiian wahine-owned business, Flavors of Italy recently qualified for and received a $250,000 Hua Kanu loan through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) Mālama Loans program.

Desiree, who was born and raised on homestead land in Nānākuli, said the company will use the loan to expand their business, build inventory and purchase additional equipment.

“I spoke with my husband, and we decided to reach out to OHA and see if they could help us because we need that extra money to expand our business. The interest rates are great, and we are very appreciative of what OHA and its Mālama Loans program do for the Hawaiian community. We’re grateful for the help because we really needed it,” Desiree said.

To build their business the couple had already invested nearly $750,000 for inventory, machinery, improvements to the warehouse, and the buildout of the café prior to receiving the OHA loan. “The mozzarella cheese stretcher alone was more than $100,000, and the building needed a lot of work,” Donato said.

Flavors of Italy supplies its products to local restaurants, to hotels such as the Four Seasons and to grocery stores including Foodland and Whole Foods Market.

They import fine cheeses, crackers, olive oil, aged balsamic vinegars, pasta, tomato products, focaccia, anchovies, wine and other specialty products from Italy. Donato Loperfido handpicks all of the items himself and guarantees that each is not just packaged in Italy but made in Italy by Italian companies.

Flavors of Italy is the leading distributor of natural wines in Hawaiʻi. Natural wines are farmed organically and made without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and nothing is utilized during the naturally occurring fermentation process.

And in an effort to help make Hawaiʻi more sustainable, the couple started locally manufacturing cheeses, such as fresh mozzarella, which also eliminates transportation and shipping costs. They produce Hawai‘i’s only locally made mozzarella at Flavors of Italy’s Kakaʻako warehouse location.

The company has also recently opened a cheese-centric Italian café named Bocconcino (which means “small bites of cheese balls”).

Photo: Orecchiette pasta salad with burrata
Chef Donato’s orecchiette pasta salad with burrata (mozzarella cheese rolled in cream and encased in more mozzarella – an Italian delicacy). – Photo: Courtesy

Bocconcino offers patrons a variety of imported delights, eight types of pizza, sandwiches that feature fresh, house-made mozzarella, and espresso drinks. One unique specialty offered at the café is burrata, a shredded mozzarella soaked in cream and enclosed in additional soft mozzarella.

Donato notes that making cheese is no easy task and actually requires significant skill. In fact, he refers to the cheese manufacturing area of the building as “the lab.”

“You have to pay attention to many things, such as the pH level of the water and the fat content of the milk. You must pay maximum attention,” he said.

The café has its origins at local farmers’ markets, finally opening at its current location on Kawaiaha‘o Street at the end of October. Their food is made to order, but currently only offered for takeout – although plans are in the making to add dine-in seating in the near future.

And Honolulu residents have responded enthusiastically.

“With all of the new high rises and buildings, we have lots of the neighborhood residents coming in and ordering at dinner time,” Desiree said. “And lunchtime is always really busy.”