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Tribe Café

A live menu bursting at the greens in Ha‘iku.

October 20, 2011
Barry Sultanoff , The Maui Weekly

Big Mac, stand back! Burger King, you've been dethroned!

Conceived in a school bus, and with its unique delicacies now prepared and served from one, Ha'iku Town Center's novel eatery, Tribe Caf, excels not only in exceptional "un-burgers" that will titillate your taste buds and spare your cholesterol, but also in a rainbow of other imaginatively-prepared dishes that will make you wonder how anything so unapologetically yummy can, at the same time, be so darn good for you.

The dcor is pure funk with cozy tables sheltered by a broad awning attached to the school bus kitchen, boldly painted in a psychedelic '60s retro style. Tribe Caf is the long-anticipated manifestation of a dream cooked up by entrepreneurs Jason Skandunas and Jessica Quinn, a pair of thirty-somethings on a mission of healing and sustainability-for themselves and for the Maui community they devotedly aim to serve.

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Tribe’s menu is based on the premise that living food can serve not only as highly pleasurable eating, but as a healthful fueling of one’s cells, promoting well-being of the mind-body-spirit.

Rooted in ancient ayurvedic (literally, "knowledge of life") principles of health and wellness, Tribe's menu boasts creations comprised of ingredients garnered almost exclusively from local growers-live foods that are fresh, colorful and "bursting at the greens" with vitality and mana. Alchemically melded by chef Jason, they're served up as alluring appetizers, enchanting entrees (both hot and cold), delicious drinks and delectable desserts fit for a king or queen.

Specialties include dishes customized to suit the ayurvedic body types-vata, pitta, and kapha (ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph, in Western parlance). There are Big Mac-robiotic burgers, generously sized, and living-food wraps chock full of local organic veggies and sprouts.

In the liquid realm, you can choose from "superfood" smoothies, coconut green tea chai, blended fresh vegetable juices, and/or an imaginative soup of the day that promises to be unlike any that you've tasted before, admonishing you, as your grandmother might, not to slurp, but rather to sip slowly and savor each lovingly-prepared spoonful.

And then, there's the ultimate indulgence: Tribe's too-tasty-to-be-true raw, non-dairy ice cream.

A weekend brunch menu has recently been added. It maintains the same Middle Eastern and vegan leanings as the weekday fare, but offers a broader culinary palette, including some more familiar "comfort foods" like crisp golden waffles topped with a compote of local fruits that are, if not "to die for," then at least "to live for" all week, in a state of intense anticipation.

"Tribe is unique!" owner Skandunas proclaimed with understandable pride. "Its menu is based on the premise that living food can serve not only as highly pleasurable eating, but more importantly, as a healthful fueling of one's cells, thereby boosting energy and promoting well-being of the mind-body-spirit. Ours is a live menu that changes with the seasons and the nutritional needs of the people it feeds. It is high-alkaline, high-antioxidant food built upon time-tested principles of proper food combining for the different body types."

Born in San Diego, Skandunas was formally educated at the California Culinary Academy, but he equally credits his travels and other life experience in propelling him into the (inevitable, as he sees it) choice to open a restaurant specializing in foods that heal. He met business partner Jessica serendipitously; that meeting of kindred souls with a shared vision crystallized the deep yearning that had been brewing in him for five years-and made its recent manifestation on Maui possible.

Jessica, also from San Diego, studied at University of California, Berkeley, and became a certified nutritional therapist. She now has her own nutritional consultation practice on Maui. As a teacher for special-needs children, she observed their eating habits and was struck by their nutritional deficiencies. Her desire for a deeper understanding of how nutrition affects behavior led her to study with a doctor of Chinese medicine who, in time, introduced her to Jason.

Rebekah Soteros-Kuby, now one of Tribe's devoted "regulars," said she's grateful that the new eatery has sprung up in her neighborhood. "Something profound happens when you eat food made with so much intention and love. Eating at Tribe has a way of bringing my entire being into the present moment. I'm amazed by the myriad of ways that I feel nourished there; it's a delicious meditation."

Master Chef Jason is a practical visionary who espouses a politics of action: "One thing the recession has shown us is that we cannot rely upon the government to take care of us or pay much serious attention to our needs," he said. "The only thing 'we the people' can truly rely on is our community-our tribe. At Tribe, our motto is "Putting Unity Back in Community."

Indeed, Tribe strives to offer its customers the perfect blend of nutritional science and delicious decadence, always making good on its "good-for-you" promise. Its core philosophy is: We are spiritual beings having human experiences. By eating good food, we feed both our human and our spiritual needs and appetites.

Tribe Eatery, located in Ha'iku Town Center, is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.



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