Joan Steffy Channon is the founder of Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery. She is an inveterate traveler and honed her culinary skills in journeys through Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Joan traveled 1600 miles down the Amazon River in a banana boat and is the first Western woman to climb the Kongka Rizumgonga range in Tibet. Her current cuisine and that of Bamboo is highly influenced by the three months she spent in Thailand, working alongside a gifted chef in Koh Samui.
Joan and her husband, Jim, first came to Kohala in 1985, when the town was boarded up after the demise of sugar cane. There were no jobs nor shops aside from the Takata grocery store, but the land was so vibrant and the people so warm that they were lured to stay. When the Takata Store came up for sale in 1987, Joan couldn’t resist and thought restoring it would be a fun project and might help revitalize the town. The building was in escrow for five years, and during that time, she thought, “This town needs a restaurant!”, and so Bamboo was born.
From inception, Bamboo wanted to be a place for locals and visitors to enjoy their families, friends, great food, and Hawaiian culture. The corporation was named Ohana Lea, with the intention of creating a “family of joy”. Bamboo was chosen as a name because bamboo is perhaps the most sustainable, versatile and flexible elements on Earth. It is food for people and animals, a beautiful and solid construction material, a windbreak or landscape element in a garden, towels, sheets, blankets, flooring, and of course, art.
Bamboo is honored to be a part of the Blue Planet program and work towards sustainability. Solar panels power the restaurant and gallery, they serve several locally grown food and local artist to avoid shopping excesses, water is monitored and minimized, they clean with approved orange products, and all of the food scraps and leftovers are recycled into food for local pig farms.
In 2015, Joan was selected to appear on the Food Network show, “Clash of the Grandmas” which was a highly educational adventure. For Food Network fans: When they say “You have 45 minutes, and your time starts NOW” . . . it doesn’t. You run, then the director yells “Cut”, and competitors have about 30 minutes to figure out what they want to cook while the camera angles are changed, and the studio resets. Then you run out again, but this time it’s for real.
Now, nearly thirty years into Bamboo . . . time has flown. Daughters and granddaughters of the original employees are on the staff. The vision was to create a joyful place with healthy food and fun times for the local community and by preserving the history of the building and the town, perhaps offer a more authentic experience for island guests. We have kept to the motto of the Old Takata Store, “Everyone should leave the building smiling.”
What are the most important personal satisfactions connected with your profession?
For me, the joy of being in a restaurant is primarily working with my outrageous staff making people happy. We laugh a lot. My goal is: #1) Have FUN, #2) Make money. I never want any of us at Bamboo to mix up those priorities.
How was your business impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Covid had a tremendous impact on Bamboo, and we were closed for nearly a year. On that last day we closed in March 2020, we wrapped up all the plates and silverware, packed away the pots and pans and kitchen equipment, and moved as much as we could into the freezer. We put all of the perishables on tables in the restaurant and everyone took a box and began filling it with produce, cheese, dairy, everything that we could not keep. And we cried. Packing those boxes was one of the saddest days of my life. Everyone moving slowly, barely glancing at one another, not saying a word, silently crying and walking hesitantly to the door out the building for who knew how long.
Do you feel that HCFCU played a role in your business outcome during the pandemic?
I can honestly say that HCFCU saved Bamboo. We didn’t take the first Payment Protection Program (PPP) Loan because I couldn’t see the point of paying 25 employees to stand around when there was not a single person walking or car parked in the street. Hawi was a ghost town. When we reopened, however, gads! We NEEDED the money to get by. I worked closely with Tim Ashcraft at our Kohala branch to get our papers in order and applied for the PPP loan. Tim held my hand all along the way.
And then, wow! Joe Biden created the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, specifically to help small restaurants with a priority for women and veterans. I went back to HCFCU again, Tim was a saint helping and guiding me through the process and were awarded a large grant. We were one of the first businesses to have an account at HCFCU after being mistreated by the “big” bank in Hawaii. I cannot say how grateful I am to all of the ohana at the Kohala HCFCU – grateful to be a customer, to feel the support, and to know they have our backs.
I don’t think we would be twenty-nine years old without our credit union. Mahalo.