They began their journey as restaurateurs with the vision to create the best burgers they possibly could with an affinity for Hawaiian values such as ohana, which means family.
Ajay Oppelaar and Robert Stutzman own Kahuna Burger, Aloha Bowls and Paradise Pies and run them all out of a joint kitchen with two storefronts in Duncan.
Now they are expanding their three successful concepts and bringing them to downtown Victoria under one roof branded as simply, Kahuna.
Kahuna will be moving in and ‘Hawaii-ifying’ the space which Very Good Butchers operated their downtown sandwich shop out of at 515 Chatham Street.
Oppelaar and Stutzman have been partners for five and a half years and both had loads of experience in how to run a restaurant.
“We started looking for a project to do as a couple and and just sort of expanded on the idea of premium, gourmet burgers, which was sort of a dream of mine,” said Oppelaar.
“I wanted to have the best burger place that anybody’s ever been to and have the best burgers in the world.”
Oppelaar had lived in Hawaii for a couple years and both had spent lots of time travelling there. They loved the cuisine, values and island vibe of Hawaii and they believed that type of niche had not been filled in Duncan.
“We just figured, why not a Hawaiian theme so we can live the life we love,” Oppelaar told Victoria Buzz.
“It’s a love of aloha spirit and the concept of ohana and the food is accessible to everyone — it’s not hot and spicy, it’s sweet and tangy and savoury.”
Once they had their concept ironed out, they got to work developing their menu and opened Kahuna Burger in May 2021.
Shortly after Kahuna Burger opened they brought Aloha Bowls and Paradise Pies into their restaurant family and since then they’ve been looking for a way to bring their vision to Victoria.
New Chatham Street location
Very Good Butchers went out of business, bankrupt and into receivership over the last couple years, shutting down slowly, shop by shop while they tried to salvage some semblance of the company they began by getting on the TV show, Dragon’s Den.
They specialized in vegan meats and cheeses so the sandwich shop they opened in downtown on the corner of Chatham and Store Street was a no brainer when they had the money to do so.
Eventually though, they had to close that shop up and it has been vacant ever since.
Now with Kahuna moving in, Victoria will be able to get Kahuna’s brand of one-of-a-kind burgers, poke bowls or gluten free pies all from the 39-seat restaurant.
Oppelaar and Stutzman live in Duncan and will have to make some adjustments, but are going to split their time between the two cities as they open their new shop and lay the foundations of a successful shop in the downtown core.
Kahuna’s menu will be small and concise because Stuzman and Oppelaar say that they’d rather do a handful of things really well than give a huge list of options that are more likely to confuse a customer than impress them.
By having the quality of the food and an inviting concept, they found that their customers — some of whom would drive all the way from Victoria just to eat a burger — were really connecting with them, their staff and the food.
“When people eat the food that I’ve created or our team created, they can tell that something is in that food — they can feel the love and passion,” Stutzman said.
“It’s very fulfilling on that level and knowing that people are sensing this, that’s what’s encouraging us to move forward with more locations.”
Kahuna Burger is known best for their house made condiments such as their mango ketchup, pineapple jam and a thai basil macadamia nut mayonnaise.
They also say their new location will be fully licensed so they can sell some local beers, one of which will be a collaboration between them and Herald Street Brewing. Oppelar says that additionally, they will be selling “the world’s best mai tai” as their only available cocktail, once again keeping the mindset of doing everything to the utmost degree.
Oppelaar and Stutzman say that they signed the paperwork for the new spot on Monday, August 14th and they pick up the keys on Tuesday.
They hope to have their new Hawaiian burger and poke restaurant, Kahuna, open sometime in October.