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Food for the soul

Soldier opens restaurant to serve good food Hawaiian style

Megan Yotsuda, Sharon Day, Brandon Frederick, Laurine Miller, Teri Cochran and owner, Charlie Wilkins are part of The Lanai Café’s success. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Charlie Wilkins recently brought the cuisine and culture of the Hawaiian Islands to downtown Olympia.

The Lanai Café, located at 514 Capitol Way South, opened at the end of August last year.

"Hawaii is the only place in the world I know of that welcomes and sends away strangers with affection," Wilkins said, as he sat in the spacious and well-lit dining area.

"That is the true meaning of the word ‘aloha.'"

Understanding that meaning took some doing.

"I was taught a good work ethic growing up on the farm," said the native of Nebraska.

"Hard work was no problem, and when I joined the Army, I did so with that attitude in mind."

It served him well; he spent a dozen honorable years serving, much of it in special operations.

But there were challenges, and meeting them played a significant role in opening The Lanai Café.

Wilkins allowed that as a soldier he saw much of the dark side of life.  

"I also lived some of that dark life."

The biggest challenge he faced was a daughter born with serious medical challenges.  Wilkins and his wife did all they could for her, but in the end, they had to give her over to a foster home.

"The Army helped us as much as it could, but it could not give our daughter what she needed," he said quietly.

"We made the decision to give her up so that she could receive better medical care."

Wilkins' daughter did receive that care, but at the age of 18 she passed away.

"The feeling that I had abandoned her ... "

In the wake of that feeling - along with the grief and anger of having lost a child so young that led to the slipping into the darker side of life - Wilkins said his Christian faith became real to him.  

In time he became a licensed minister of the Foursquare church.

The church is a Protestant evangelical Pentecostal Christian denomination founded in 1923 by preacher Aimee Semple McPherson.

Through connections in Hawaii and his church, Wilkins and his wife, Kami, decided to open a restaurant that served not only unique and good food but also offered unconditional acceptance.

"We are the only restaurant in the area that serves Hawaiian food," Wilkins commented.

"But we also create a space in order to touch one life at a time."

To be in downtown Olympia places his café in a position to help people who have also walked on life's darker paths.

Believing that all individuals deserve a second chance in life, Wilkins made it a goal to hire people who had battled addiction and homelessness.

"This restaurant serves great food and is a refuge for those seeking it," he concluded.

"Life is not a ‘fubared' as it seems."

THE LUNAI CAFE, 514 Capitol Way S., Olympia, 360.584.9885,

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