Waioli Tea Room in Manoa marks 100 years of serving food ― and second chances

The Waioli Tea Room was built 100 years ago as a vocational training facility for orphan girls and it continues the spirit of the original mission.
Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 5:12 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 14, 2022 at 6:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In Manoa Valley, a historic restaurant draws in diners with delicious food and garden views.

A century old, it serves the same helping of hope it did when the Salvation Army first built it.

The Waioli Tea Room was built 100 years ago as a vocational training facility for orphan girls. Today, the workers aren’t orphans but women who are starting new lives.

Aside from scones and egg dishes, the Waioli Kitchen and Bakeshop serves second chances for the recovering addicts and former inmates who work there.

Lead baker Dida Baza has struggled with addiction for three decades and spent most of her life behind bars.

“I didn’t have the drive to stay sober. That was the biggest struggle of being sober,” she said.

She took cooking classes in prison and after getting out 19 months ago, she found work at Waioli.

“For people like me who’s been living in the, in the revolving door of the prison system and drug addiction, we have to learn how to relax without drugs, how to make money the right way,” Baza said. “Every day is ongoing struggle, because I’m learning to adjust into society.”

“I was addicted over 20 years,” said line cook Tiffany Saleimoa-Kekahu. She was released from prison in 2018.

“This has been the longest I’ve ever stayed clean, you know, and being out,” she said.

Waioli offers the women a bridge from cell to society.

“It’s not always easy for someone who’s coming out of incarceration to find a job, or to find a job that would treat them like this,” said co-owner Ross Anderson, who calls the women “found treasures.”

He and his wife Stefanie, a pastor who volunteered at the women’s prison, took over the restaurant four years ago, and stayed true to the place’s original mission.

“Be a safe place with no alcohol, clean and sober workforce and help keep them on track. And we ended up teaching them a little bit how to cook a little bit how to bake but a lot about life skills. So it’s a lot about how to live your life right,” Anderson said.

Without the program and their faith, the women say they’d be back in lock up.

“I got a lot to lose, you know. So every time I feel like giving up, I always turn, my kids is behind me,” Saleimoa-Kekahu said.

“Because my life is really centered around my faith in God. I’ve lasted so long,” Baza said.

“They need someone that will believe in them to get them on their feet and get them started,” Anderson said.

But for every Dida or Tiffany, Anderson says, there are dozens more who relapse.

“They had lots of support there, the women there had a network, when when they got out, they go back to their abusive relationship or dysfunctional family situation or something and go right back into that cycle of abuse and using and cycle back in prison,” Anderson said.

For these women, Waioli is an ohana that helps break that cycle.

“I guess you get so used to failing, that you kind of lose hope in yourself. And for me, it’s just a daily struggle, and making sure I stay on track,” Baza said.

Waioli Kitchen & Bakeshop is open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, visit WaioliKitchen.com.