You can smell the ʻono grinds coming from Kalei’s Lunch Box before you even get to the counter.
Located in Kahului, Maui (just past Costco), this lunch wagon is a favorite with hungry kamaʻāina and has become so popular that in May 2021, owners Fran and Aaron Kalei Heath opened a second Kalei’s Lunch Box as a storefront at the Pukalani Terrace Shopping Center.
Kalei’s is not only known for their delicious local food, but also for their commitment to serving the Maui community a daily dose of aloha, hope, and resilience.
“We are excited to open up a second location! It will take our journey full circle – [Pukalani is] where I started my first restaurant, and where my kids were born and raised,” said Aaron. “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 has been working in the culinary industry since high school. He started out washing dishes at Kula Lodge. He then attended Maui Culinary, worked as sous chef at the Marriott Kaʻanapali, and eventually opened two restaurants upcountry. His wife and business partner, Fran, has a background in hospitality as a wedding and event planner.
When Aaron and Fran got married in 2017 (a second marriage for both of them) they blended their families and backgrounds and started over. Aaron worked two cooking jobs. Fran continued to work at the Montage Kapalua while running her own company, Aloha Aisles. Together, their skill sets and work experience made it possible to open Kalei’s Lunch Box.
“It’s truly a labor of love,” smiled Fran. “We have a lot of passion and we get so many compliments about our staff for the aloha we all give. For us, we are Kānaka. It is not just a word – we live it, serve it, and are very proud of it. We mālama every customer. My husband creates and cooks for the kamaʻāina.”
Kalei’s Lunch Box 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’s the same recipes and preparation – only Chef Aaron oversees the recipes. And everything is cooked fresh,” said Fran.
Kalei’s Lunchbox has long offered a $5 Cheap Eats plate once-a-week to loyal customers. Cheap Eats plates include roasted pulled pork with gravy, roast beef, cheesesteak and more. When the pandemic hit, they began offering the Cheap Eats plate multiple times a week to take care of kamaʻāina.
“It’s not just about the money,” said Fran. “We have a passion for serving and feeding the community. We take care of our frontline workers. We have always given discounts to firefighters and police in uniform. Since the pandemic, we expanded the discount to include paramedics, airport police, and lifeguards. We are all in this together.”
Kalei’s Lunch Box also takes part in two programs that help feed our kūpuna: 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.
“We got together with a few friends to feed the hungry,” explains Fran. “Then it became a monthly thing where were donating between 400-600 plates a month. In August 2020, we took a break when we lost my 97-year-old mother to COVID. And in September, we decided to feed the entire Maui Medical Center staff lunch as a thank you for all they do for our community and for caring for my mom.”
Kalei’s Lunch Box also launched a new campaign this 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. We basically started with nothing. We thank God for our friends, the Wengs [Danielle Dang and Thomas Weng], who believed in our dream and invested in us,” said Fran. “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 because this is our passion. Truly, it’s not what you don’t have, but what you do with what you do have.”