Tales of Perseverance

Hoomau Rising Sons

The filmmakers of Rising Sons Productions are working on their biggest project to date, a story set in ancient Hawai‘i about the value of tenacity.

Text by Brad Dell | Images by Laura Aguon

Best friends Yamato Cibulka and Kenji Doughty have been making films together since ninth grade. Raised in Yokosuka, Japan, the two parted ways after graduating from high school—Cibulka headed to Las Vegas and Doughty to O‘ahu. In December 2009, Cibulka moved to join his friend in Hawai‘i. “We would always talk about making films over the phone. Now we’re here together and we say, ‘Let’s go for it,’” Doughty says. “We dropped out of college without a safety net and went full throttle.” Today, they own an award-winning film production company called Rising Sons Productions.

They found their first audience at the 2010 Showdown in Chinatown, a competition in which filmmakers have 24 hours to create a short film. “We didn’t win or place. But we got the hunger. Every Showdown, we started making a film,” Doughty says. “It got to the point where we made a short film every month.” Cibulka and Doughty created Rising Sons Productions shortly after the first Showdown. “At first it was just [Cibulka] and I filming each other with one video camera,” Doughty says. “But with each project, we picked up more people willing to help. Now we have a whole film crew, people that are masters at their craft in each department.”

Hoomau Behind The Scenes

Rising Sons Productions finds much of its support at Lana Lane Studios, where it has been headquartered since the studios opened in 2012. The workspace first appealed to Cibulka and Doughty because of its affordable costs, but they soon found other benefits, collaborating other artists in the studio collaborating to create film scores, concept art, and graphic designs. “You’re surrounded by artists who might not have the same creative backgrounds as you, but every single person here shares that same pursuit of an almost unattainable dream,” Doughty says. “You see other people succeeding, and it makes you hungrier. You see people working and it makes you want to work harder.”

When not at Lana Lane, both Cibulka and Doughty work as production assistants for Hollywood blockbusters that film in Hawai‘i, including Battleship, Jurassic World, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. “Seeing how sets were run, it was like a front-row seat to a film school,” Cibulka says. The two have the ultimate goal of making their own Hollywood wide-release features.

Ho‘omau is Rising Sons Productions’ next step toward this. “It is the culmination of all that we have learned,” Doughty says. “We’ve taken two years to work on bigger projects and study film techniques, and now we think we’re ready to put out our best film yet.” The short film is set on Hawai‘i Island in the days of ancient Hawai‘i, and follows a heroine who must choose between perseverance and surrendering to a dark fate. “It’s packed with action. Underwater fight scenes, struggles in caves, huge battles on lava fields,” Doughty says. “We started shooting in late June. We threw in a couple hundred bucks each, but decided it was much bigger than originally planned, way too expensive.” Rising Sons Productions has shot two days’ worth of footage, and successfully raised over $35,000 on Kickstarter by August 6. The film is set for completion by mid-September and release in early 2016.

Rising Sons Productions has made strides to keep Ho‘omau as authentic to ancient Hawai‘i as possible, hiring cultural advisers and exclusively using ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i in the dialogue. Cibulka and Doughty plan to submit Ho‘omau to film festivals across the world. “We want to get rid of that commercialized view of Hawai‘i,” Cibulka says. “We want people to know that there is a real, living culture, there are stories attached to the land everywhere. We don’t want people to think of Hawai‘i as just this tourist destination. Hawai‘i has a spirit.”


The People’s Place

Daniel HCDA

Better Block Hawaii helps put the community in planning.

Text by Brad Dell | Image by John Hook

Matthew Gonser and Daniel Simonich rest at the McCoy Pavilion before embarking on a public group walk through Ala Moana Beach Park in order to assess what improvements could be made to the area. Cranes and half-completed high-rises dot the Honolulu skyline behind them. “How do you let community members know that they can make change in their own neighborhoods? It’s not all just about watching high-rises going up,” says Simonich, pictured left, a planner for the Hawai‘i Community Development Authority.

Simonich and Gonser believe the answer lies in the promotion of community planning, which invites community members representing a diverse demographic to actively participate in devising development goals for their neighborhoods. In 2013, Gonser and Simonich co-founded the Hawai‘i chapter of Better Block, a national nonprofit that educates the public on how neighborhoods can be developed in a more efficient and community-focused way. “When people think of community planning, they often think of empowerment and helping the individual, using part of the community to actually build the community,” says Gonser, a community planner and designer working with the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant.

But urban planning hasn’t always been so mindful of the individual. In fact, community planning only became popular after the attempts (and failures) of other primarily government-dominated styles of developing neighborhoods. In the mid-1900s, a city redevelopment movement called “urban renewal” sought to improve impoverished areas, usually at the expense of the working class and without the input of those actually living within the communities. This schism created a slew of problems, particularly social ones, when zoning created divisions between both ethnic groups and economic classes.

Today, Our Kaka‘ako means to avoid these divisions by creating a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood. Kamehameha Schools has encouraged participation in its design through hosting public forums, allowing project demonstrations by organizations like Better Block, and investing in various arts and events in the neighborhood.

Cooke Street Demo

Image by Kyle Sasaki

The Hawai‘i chapter of Better Block has participated in projects across Honolulu in order to visualize ways in which a neighborhood could be made safe while still maintaining its aesthetic appeal. For example, they built a temporary parklet in a parking space at Thomas Square with chairs, tables, and décor to show how car-dominated streets can be re-imagined as community-oriented gathering places. Gonser and Simonich also participated in The Cooke Street Complete Streets Demonstration in 2013 as part of Hele On Kaka‘ako, an undertaking that created temporary curb extensions, bike lanes, and traffic circles to help show what a complete street—which is safe for all users, from walkers to bikers to commuters—is like. The group hopes that community members see these installations and push for developers to invest in similar designs for Our Kaka‘ako.

Because the resident population is currently so small, the community of Our Kaka‘ako is heavily influenced by the businesses that exist there. Only Six Eighty, a 54-unit median-income apartment building, has been built so far, meaning that just 54 of the planned 2,750 housing units are complete. “[The businesses] really are building a community,” Gonser says. “You have bakers and designers next to each other thinking of how to collaborate together to contribute to the neighborhood.”

The population dynamic will change once more residents arrive in Our Kaka‘ako upon the completion of the rest of the housing units, which will cater to diverse economic classes. Gonser and Simonich agree that the master plan must be open to evolution, allowing for the input of the diverse population that will move there within the next several years. “The group knows the answer,” Gonser says. “Once you empower people to participate, the end product should be that much better.”

For more information, visit


Street from Scratch

Honolulu Night Market

Street Grindz founder Poni Askew envisions pop-up affairs that become must-attend local events.

Text by James Charisma | Images by Jeff Villamin and Jessica Baughman

On the third Saturday of every month, Cooke Street takes on a whole new personality. The area is lit with strung light bulbs, food trucks line the sidewalk, and pop-up shops sell locally made goods and trending apparel. Music brightens the atmosphere, and a fashion show brings a buzz of energy to the crowd. The scene is Honolulu Night Market, a free nighttime block party with art, music, fashion shows, and shopping vendors, hosted by Street Grindz, a company that has made pop-up events its forte.

“Ever since I was small, I was coming up with business ideas,” says Poni Askew, the mastermind behind the company. “I especially liked events. It was fun for me to develop and try new things.”

Born in Waialua and raised in Wahiawā, Askew moved to Nashville after high school to work in the music industry, and lived in Tennessee for 16 years. In 2009, after the birth of her second child with her husband, Brandon, she returned to Hawai‘i to raise a family.

But something had been nagging her about business in the islands. “There was a show that came on sometimes in Nashville that had stories about entrepreneurs from around the world. They featured Hawai‘i quite a bit, and I remember that the entrepreneurs they talked to had found success here, but most were not actually from here,” recalls Askew. “I thought that was great for the entrepreneurs, but who was looking out for the little guy, the local Hawai‘i small business owners?”

Her return to O‘ahu was around the same time that the Los Angeles food truck scene took off. It was an industry that Askew was familiar with: Hawai‘i had been doing the lunchwagon thing for years. But it appeared that Los Angeles was going to claim the idea as its own, and Hawai‘i was going to fall off the radar. So Askew created the Twitter account @streetgrindz, dedicated to sharing where local food trucks and pop-ups were located. It was a hit. Askew became friends with chefs and street vendors, and soon, she decided to take the idea a step further.

On January 27, 2011, in a parking lot outside Jazz Minds on Kapiolani Boulevard, she gathered 12 food trucks for an event called “Eat the Street.” More than 1,500 people turned out. That night, Askew received a call from a representative at Kamehameha Schools, asking if she’d be interested in hosting the next food truck event in Our Kaka‘ako. “It was perfect timing,” she says.

Eat the Street

Around a year and a half after moving Eat the Street to Kaka‘ako, she pitched the idea for a new event, the Honolulu Night Market, that would not only be about food, but a full experience for the family and neighborhood. Kamehameha Schools offered to partner on it, and with their kōkua, Street Grindz was able to secure warehouse spaces for retail vendors and additional lots for pop-up beer gardens, food trucks, fashion shows, and live performances. The event began on a small section of Auahi Street, but quickly expanded to include more of the block. Now, the party goes down outside of Kaka‘ako Agora on Cooke Street.

As the neighborhood continues to develop, change is the nature of the game. Street Grindz has continued to grow, and recently expanded Eat the Street to include a more permanent location nearby. Today, Honolulu Night Market is one of Hawai‘i’s largest monthly events, with a regular turnout of around 8,000 people.

“In just a few years, we’ve come so far,” Askew says. “The whole neighborhood has.”

Honolulu Night Market takes place on the third Saturday of every month from 6 to 11 p.m. at 449 Cooke St. For more information, visit


Keeping Town Country

The Cut Kakaako

Smoothie shop The Cut connects the Our Kaka‘ako community to fresh fruit and to each other.

Text by Anna Harmon | Images by Jonas Maon

“He’s got the freshest coconut in Kaka‘ako, little smoothie shop called The Cut. Like the ripe fruit, he got those, right behind the Porsche and Jaguar shop.”

So begins The Cut’s bright ditty, accompanied by ‘ukulele and sung by Mangofreeman, as the young owner likes to be called, behind the counter of his smoothie shop. Just as his lyrics describe, The Cut is located in the heart of Our Kaka‘ako, down an alley and in front of creative hub Lana Lane Studios. Visitors who come across the shop find a banana bunch hanging above an open counter, a stool pulled up, and a wood stump out front with husks of coconuts scattered to the sides. Here, Mangofreeman—an alias inspired by a superhero who is attuned to the sound of falling fruit, which he catches and places in the hands of children before they enter fast food stops—waits to reintroduce you to the produce of Hawai‘i.

The Cut KakaakoThe Cut was born in February of this year. It has the feel of times past, which was the aim of Mangofreeman, who is from Kaimukī and grew up around plantation-style architecture. He has wanted to own a smoothie shop since childhood, when he spent time in Hanalei and for a brief stint went to Hanalei Elementary. “Down at the pier, there was this guy called Friedman and he had a smoothie wagon,” he says. “That was the first time I thought about how it would be cool to have a smoothie truck.” Mangofreeman got into surfing as he got older, and as he began to train for the sport, he realized the importance of what you eat, and thus of local produce and fresh fruits.

But The Cut is more than a smoothie shop. It’s a gathering place. This is due both to its location at the entrance of Lana Lane, and also to Mangofreeman’s insistence on the importance of food as an experience, as well as a community builder. He invites passerbys to partake in a coconut; he asks someone who orders a smoothie to toss him a couple bananas from the hanging bunch. If he has lychee, you can trade him for mangos, or whatever else you may have. He only uses local produce, unless he receives a donation otherwise. He gets fruits from O‘ahu farms, and trims trees in exchange for their offspring.

“Take a live coconut, or take a coconut in a can. It’s a daily struggle,” he says. “Some days I’ll offer one of the guys a coconut and they’re like, ‘I don’t got time,’ It makes me wonder, what are we sacrificing? What are we doing in pursuit of our dreams?” He admits that he even feels too lazy to cut coconut for himself at times. But he dreams of a community in which people gather regularly to harvest and enjoy fresh coconut together.

For Mangofreeman, food connects humans with each other, as well as with our environment. “Take this coconut,” he says, gesturing to a green one resting on the wood counter. “This was in the sun on a tree for six months every day, absorbing that sun energy coming from thousands or millions of miles away. … And then we get to receive all that condensed energy and time. It’s for us. So I say we’re traveling at light speed. We walk in grace and travel at light speed, whether we realize it or not.”

The Cut is located at 327 Lana Lane. Hours are roughly 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, follow @thecut_kakaako on Instagram.


The Dirty Work

Kakaako Pumping Station

Breaking down fact and fiction behind Kaka‘ako’s sewer system.

Text by Anna Harmon | Image by John Hook

Poop. It’s been the bane of Kaka‘ako’s existence for a while now. In recent years, a telling smell has occasionally reached the nostrils of visitors. Speculation has abounded about the odor’s cause, what the area’s sewer system was or was not able to handle, and if there were mutant turtles roaming around in the pipes beneath our feet (kidding about the third).

Less known than these rumors is the fact that Kaka‘ako has always been at the heart of the very sewer system Honolulu residents rely on. On the makai side of Ala Moana Boulevard, near Keawe Street, there is a fetching lava rock building with a green tile roof and large arched windows. This building was the very first pumping station of Honolulu’s ever expanding sewer system, and was constructed in 1900 for one explicit purpose: to pump human waste out into the ocean. In fact, this was the birthplace of the island’s contemporary sewer system, and was the first pumping station in all of Hawai‘i. It was decommissioned in 1940, and still stands empty today, a reminder of how lovely architecture can cover even our dirtiest deeds.

These days, wastewater from Kaka‘ako flows via the Ala Moana Pump Station to the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, built in 1976, which treats most of Honolulu’s wastewater. Last year, it took in an average of nearly 62 million gallons per day, according to Lori Kahikina, director of the City and Count of Honolulu Department of Environmental Services. This water includes everything that drains out of toilets, sinks, showers, and laundry, as well as groundwater that gets in through cracks. While there have been concerns that Kaka‘ako’s increased development will overwhelm current pipes or the treatment plant itself, these fears can be assuaged. In fact, an increase in wastewater would actually help solid waste move through pipes more quickly, resulting in less odor flare-ups. Additionally, if a specific pipe is not sized for the increased flow from a high-rise, the developer must enlarge it or install a new one that is aligned with City and County codes. Kamehameha Schools has spent several million dollars to help improve the infrastructure in Kaka‘ako, including the sewer.

Further, The Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant can handle up to 90 million gallons per day. Even with 10 new 500-unit towers in Kaka‘ako, with each unit theoretically producing a high amount of wastewater, this would only result in roughly 1 to 1.5 million gallons per day, bringing the treatment plant to an average of 63.5 million gallons per day. The main critique pointed at local governance, when it comes to Kaka‘ako development, is the city’s lack of support for more sustainable types of localized wastewater management, such as “mini plants” within high-rises, which would make it possible to recycle water internally for things like centralized air conditioning. The primary benefit of such mini plants is that they conserve water, which reduces consumption and expense. After they are built, the City and County can submitter wastewater that enters the main sewer system so that building owners aren’t charged for what they recycle internally, But while the City and County agrees localized systems like this are a good idea, it doesn’t yet have any way to support their installation.

In the meantime, one rumor is odiously true: The smell that escapes from Kaka‘ako manholes on occasion is, indeed, hydrogen sulfide wafting from sewer pipes. This smell reminds us of one of the greatest conveniences we nearly always overlook, a system that allows us to visit our porcelain throne and go on our way, knowing that someone down the line is looking out and will do the dirty work. As City and County researches ways to reduce the odor and cleans the pipes that will soon be flowing with more and more of our wastewater, which in turn will help move solids along and alleviate the issue, let’s acknowledge our humanity and dream of a world in which poo really does smell like roses.

Clean Your Pipes: Fast Facts About Kaka‘ako’s Sewage System

Odor: Why the stink? Pipes in Kaka‘ako are large and run at a slight downward angle. Sometimes, solid waste collects in areas not coursing with water, and as it breaks down, it releases hydrogen sulfide (read: stinky). With more people, hence more wastewater, this will improve. City and County also conducts sewer cleanings to make your nose happier.

Pipes: Pipes in Kaka‘ako can date back as far as 1897. But almost all of the pipes in the area have been upgraded, refurbished, or replaced.

Digesters: At Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, solid waste is turned into dry pellets by an egg-shaped digester, then used as fertilizer or sent to H-Power. To accommodate increased solid waste from Kaka‘ako and other development, the plant is getting a second digester and refurbishing the original. This is estimated to be completed by mid-2017.

Water: It takes approximately 25 years for rain and irrigation water to reach O‘ahu’s underground aquifers, and then be piped to Kaka‘ako taps.

Toilet: Low-flow toilets generally save 21.2 to 27.2 gallons of water per day per single family household. Alternatively, those who want to conserve water can adopt the adage, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.”


Seoul Food

Jay's Bar-B-Q

J’s Bar-B-Q, a staple on Keawe Street for nearly 30 years, returns to Kaka‘ako as J’s Grill in late 2015.

Text by Kelli Gratz

So Ung Pak, owner of J’s Bar-B-Q, doesn’t like to talk about himself. Instead, he lets his food do the talking. At his restaurant, the J’s Special, served with delicious helpings of kalbi short ribs, meat jun, barbecue chicken, and homemade mandoo, quickly communicated that it was the epitome of Korean comfort food, while the breakfast special of rice, eggs, and choice of meat screamed “score” at less than $4. What the Honolulu resident will say, in his thick Korean accent, is, “I’m good at cooking. People recognize when I make a plate or somebody else made it. And it’s better when I do.”

At J’s Bar-B-Q, Pak went out of his way to give his customers the best local take-out experience. He lured diners to the hole-in-the-wall eatery for nearly three decades with prime ingredients, freshly made noodles, and unheard of prices ($3.49 for a meal!). Menu items included Hawai‘i favorites like kalbi and barbecue chicken, and tastes of Korea like bibimbap and bi bim kook soo (spicy cold noodles accessorized with eggs, tomatoes, daikon, and a mob of seaweed flakes). Some island residents claimed the bi bim kook soo to be the most elegant of them all, and I might have to agree. The secret was in the noodles—somen, thin white wheat vermicelli, made from scratch.

“My mother taught me how to make it,” says Pak. “She came up with the recipe, and when I was old enough, I learned.” Pak’s father was a fire chief in the U.S. Army, and when the opportunity came to move to America, his family didn’t hesitate. In 1985, Pak opened J’s Bar-B-Q. Last year, he had to shut its doors to allow for the neighborhood’s development, but the restaurant will return with an updated name and revamped look to SALT at Our Kaka‘ako in late 2015. Pak even brought in his daughter, Heejin Uchimura, who is an interior designer, to help him reimagine the aesthetic and elevate the restaurant beyond its previous hole-in-the-wall vibe. “We will call it J’s Grill because we are adding steak and shrimp to the menu,” Pak says. “Maybe after we open, if business is good, we make franchise.”

J’s Grill might have a tricky time converting old regulars to the new contemporary digs, though those who have yet to experience it will quickly be enchanted by its unique flavors. “The menu will be smaller, and will be very different,” says Pak. “But we will have the most popular dishes and bring back old ones too.”

I think about the last time I was at J’s Bar-B-Q, how delicious the food was, and about how quickly people will settle in to the new space just steps away from the original location on the corner of Keawe and Auahi streets. Rustic and comfortable, I imagine it having the feel of an old, well-kept tavern, measuring 1,116 square feet—enough to hold about 20 people, with the outdoor seating at SALT at Our Kaka‘ako for spillover.

“It’s a lot of work. I’m there all day,” Pak says at his latest business venture, Ono Polynesian Market in Wai‘anae, of life as a restaurant owner. “My daughter is designing the interior,” he says, “but someday, when she’s older, I’ll teach her how to run the family business.”

SALT at Our Kaka‘ako opens in late 2015.


Sweat Success

Ben Travino 99u

Interisland Terminal is hosting a 99u Local event at Kakaʻako Agora in September. We picked co-founder Ben Trevino’s brain about it below.

Images by Jonas Maon

Foundry: What were you doing right before you looked at these questions?

Ben Trevino: I read this question three times before answering it. The first time I was buying food at McDonald’s–shame. The second time I was conducting business on a sailboat. This last time I was going to Kailua to buy a pair of fins.

When is the first time you remember visiting Kakaʻako?

A few months after moving here in October of 2006, when I was working for the Hawaii International Film Festival, I went to Fisher Hawaii to pick up some things. People always spoke of Fisher with this sort of reverence that was half inside joke, but half completely in earnest. I’m an Aries and consequently, I’m told, a huge fan of office supplies. I thought Fisher was magical.

How did you get involved with Interisland Terminal?

Wei Fang, Sarah Honda, Anderson Le, Sean Shodahl, and I founded Interisland Terminal in 2009. We had all worked together at HIFF or on other projects, and saw a need for an arts organization that could deliver programming that was out of scope of other major institutions, but still important for our community. We started with pop-up galleries and short film festivals, and we’ve done more than 50 programs since then, including the Kakaʻako Agora.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve helped host at Kakaʻako Agora?

My personal favorite was a screening of The Internet’s Own Boy, which we co-hosted with Common Cause Hawaii, Startup Weekend Honolulu, and Code for Hawaii. It’s an incredibly moving and inspiring film that connects technology and activism. We put together a fantastic panel and produced some really interesting local essays exploring the issues covered in the documentary.

Is this 99u Local event in Honolulu an Interisland Terminal project?

Yes. Technically, they select individuals as ambassadors of the program–that’s me–but I was selected on the strength of our organization.

What is the concept behind 99u?

The idea behind 99u is a quote attributed to Thomas Edison: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Creatives necessarily deal in ideas, but making ideas reality is not a straightforward process. 99u is about providing real-world lessons and support for creatives, and fostering creative growth.

Who will the speakers be?

There will be three speakers who work in Hawaiʻi and are practicing artists, designers, or creatives who have real-world lessons about working in this market, with its unique constraints and opportunities.

What are you hoping attendees will take away?

I’m hoping attendees will be inspired to start creative projects that have been knocking around in their heads, advance or finish projects that they had put on hold, or make changes to their process or the way their work is organized in order to make their work more productive, more meaningful, and more satisfying.

What is your best tip for turning an idea into a reality?

Oh, there are so many. The most general one would be to commit to working on it. Set aside time. Or money. Or mental space. But really invest in doing this thing with your resources. Even if you don’t know how to do something, if you invest resources into trying to figure it out, you will get closer.


UPDATE: The featured speakers are Matthw Tapia, graphic and lettering artist; Denby Freeland Cole, artist and educator; Jamie Makasobe, coo-owner and designer at Kealopiko

99u Local in Honolulu will take place at Kaka‘ako Agora on Thursday, September 17 from 6 to 9 p.m. It is free to attend. To learn more about the Honolulu event, visit For more information about 99u, visit