LIHU‘E — It was a rude surprise for the Wooton family, owners of Kaua‘i Kunana Dairy in Kilauea, to discover their goat cheese on the menus of several Kaua‘i restaurants that are not ordering their product.
Of the four restaurants making false claims, two have never ordered their goat cheese, one has not placed an order in more than a year, and the other has not ordered since October, Kunana Dairy owner Louisa Wooton said.
“Buyer beware when you sit down for a fine dining experience with the comforting thought that you are supporting local farmers,” she said.
“You can run here on Kaua‘i, but you can’t hide,” Wooton said. “This isn’t L.A. where you can get away with things like this.”
After the discovery, Wooton contacted the restaurants and found their excuses “truly novel.”
Brennecke’s Beach Broiler, Po‘ipu
“False advertising was not the intent,” Brennecke’s owner Bob French said Thursday.
The restaurant’s website menu, copyright 2008, lists an “organic Kaua‘i arugula with warm Kunana Dairy goat cheese” salad.
Wooton said they have never supplied Brennecke’s with their cheese.
French said they don’t offer the salad on their in-restaurant menu and the item only appears on their website because they have yet to update it.
“It’s just an oversight,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to misrepresent the facts . . . We were having trouble with our Kaua‘i arugula supply and took it off menu, but not off of website,” French said. “We’ve been running a different salad altogether on the menu. It was our full intention to use the Kunana Dairy product.”
French added that he sympathizes with Wooton. “If someone used our name, it would bother me,” he said. “I get it. I just have to apologize to them, that’s all.”
Kalaheo Steak & Ribs, Kalaheo
Wooton said Kalaheo Steak & Ribs is the other restaurant that has never been a customer of her dairy. Yet, the restaurant’s dinner menu lists an “island fresh arugula salad” tossed with Kilauea goat cheese.
Restaurant owner Caroline Frederiksen said the restaurant’s previous chef, Shane Farkash, put it on the menu six months ago.
“We wanted to buy it from him (the Wootons), but they don’t want to sell it to us,” Frederiksen said.
Wooton said, “So you’re dishing out to the customers every night for six months? How can that be right?”
Frederiksen said the menu will be changed soon after Valentine’s Day.
Casablanca Restaurant, Po‘ipu
Farkash is also a former chef of Casablanca Restaurant, which stopped ordering from Kunana Dairy in October. But the restaurant’s menu still lists the Kilauea dairy as the goat cheese on their cheese platter.
Sarah Foster, the restaurant’s chef for the past year, said she would order the cheese but it’s not available.
Wooton said that’s simply not true. Supply levels vary by season; however, the cheese is available.
During their seasonal peak, the dairy produces some 300 pounds of cheese per week. “Right now, we’re doing 100 to 120 pounds per week,” she said.
The cheese is sold wholesale to restaurants and is sometimes offered at farmers markets. She said they no longer supply grocery stores with their cheese because of the packaging requirements.
Casablanca owner Elizabeth Foley-McGinn said sometimes an employee would pick up the Kunana goat cheese at a farmers market.
When they didn’t have it to serve to customers, they would inform them of its unavailability and double up on some other type of cheese offered on the platter, such as gorgonzola, she said.
Foley-McGinn said it was never about deceiving customers.
“You run out of stuff in the restaurant business, and people understand that,” she said. “We’ll say sorry, we don’t have this or that tonight.”
She called Kunana’s goat cheese “the best on the market.”
“Once you try it, you’ll never go back to anything else,” she said. “It’s pricey, but well worth it.”
Following the interview, Casablanca placed an order with Kunana Dairy, Wooton said. “At least they’re trying to do the right thing.”
Kukui’s, Marriott Resort and Beach Club, Kalapaki Beach
The Marriott restaurant has not ordered cheese from Kunana Dairy since October 2009, Wooton said, but Kilauea goat cheese remains on the menu.
When restaurant manager Grace Lontoc was asked about the discrepancy, she said executive chef Guy Higa is responsible for the menu. He declined an opportunity to comment.
Wooton said when she called Higa about the issue a few weeks ago, he told her it cost too much to reprint the menus.
“Marriott was one of our first accounts when we opened in 1999,” Wooton said, and the hotel maintained a standing order with them. But in 2009, the dairy was informed by the hotel’s purchasing department that they could get cheese cheaper elsewhere and would not be ordering from them anymore.
“They didn’t give us any warning,” Wooton said. “We were just left sitting there looking at all of this packaged cheese.”
On Thursday, a customer ordering a “Hawaiian Heirloom tomatoes, watermelon and Kilauea goat cheese” salad on the “from the ‘aina” side of the menu was repeatedly assured by staff members that the salad contained Kaua‘i Made goat cheese.
“How do I know?” the customer asked.
Because that’s what the menu says, some replied.
“If there’s any confusion on that, we apologize,” resort manager Steve Yarenel said Friday. “We’ve removed it from our menu as of today. I have no other comment.”