Lessons Learned: Huggo’s in Kailua-Kona
Huggo’s, on the water at the south end of Kailua Bay, is one of Kona’s oldest and most popular restaurants. Executive chef Ken Schloss and butcher Urs Hartmann talk about fish, the mainstay of Huggo’s menu.
Where do you get your fish?
Schloss: The whole thing starts with the relationships you create with local fishermen. We buy fish from hundreds of local fishermen, but only about 10 call us consistently. Urs has cultivated the relationships … he’s here at 4 a.m.
Hartmann: We don’t find them, they find us. We have a red phone in the kitchen, the “fish hotline.”
Schloss: We do buy from big suppliers – Suisan, Fresh Island Fish, Kona Fish. They’re great suppliers, but we prefer to buy direct from the boat. We get 70 percent direct. We have more control, and we have more product from the whole fish. We chop up fish for different seafood and soup courses, and we also have poke. We need more than just the fish loins and filets we get from the suppliers.
Hartmann: Wild is better, but we buy some high-quality farmed fish.
Schloss: I’m open minded; farmed fish are improving all the time. I’m hesitant to buy imported farmed fish, as I don’t know the source. Kona Kampachi is excellent (from open-ocean pens off Kona). We get oysters, clams and lobster from the Natural Energy Lab. I love the farmed shrimp.
How much fish do you buy?
Schloss: Around 60 or 70 percent of our orders are for fish. We pride ourselves on fresh fish and have a very good selection, consistently.
Hartmann: We buy around 200 pounds a week of ahi, total fish around 700 pounds a week.
Schloss: Our problem is not selling the fish, it’s getting the supply.
Hartmann: There are fewer fishermen, with rising fuel prices. Fish is less available, and they’re getting smaller.
What about pricing?
Hartmann: It’s a daily haggle on the phone. … [Fishermen] may throw out a price and the discussion goes from there.
Schloss: If we had to buy only from the suppliers we’d have to charge more.
How do you know if the fish is fresh?
Hartmann: I use the finger test (he gestures, as if pushing in on the fish). And we trust our fishermen. We know them, know their methods.