Krystie and Robert “Kealoha” Campell of Kealoha’s BBQ Kiosk Have Big Plans for a Brick and Mortar

The Big Island natives are serving Denverites an authentic taste of home with no plans of stopping anytime soon
Krystie and Robert “Kealoha” Campell of Kealoha’s BBQ Kiosk Have Big Plans for a Brick and Mortar
Photo: Official | Kealoha's BBQ
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Krystie and Robert “Kealoha” Campell moved from Hawai’i to Denver in 2019 after receiving a great response to their recipes at the Taste of Colorado — an annual three-day food festival in Downtown Denver’s Civic Center Park. 

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However, it wasn’t the Centennial State itself that beckoned the couple from their long-loved fine-sand beaches to the Rocky Mountain mecca. Instead, their son had started attending the University of Colorado Denver.

It was during visits to see him that the husband and wife duo A) entered their food in the festival and B) realized other islanders were also taking to Colorado’s coruscating community. Shortly after, they opened Kealoha’s BBQ on Denver’s 16th Street Mall.

Though the pandemic proved difficult for the small kiosk, the couple persevered, calling Denver “home” and refusing to give up on the community and what they’d created.

Now, the Big Island natives have even bigger ideas on their minds — a brick-and-mortar version of Kealoha’s BBQ that will allow them to bring more of their homeland to their new home.   

That said, Krystie and Robert graciously “talked stories” with What Now Denver to tell us about growing pains, plans, people, and preconceived notions:

WND: Aside from the pandemic, what has been the most difficult part of opening/operating Kealoha’s BBQ? What has been the most rewarding part about opening/operating Kealoha’s?

K&R: The most difficult part, aside from the pandemic, was adjusting to a whole new environment and culture here in Colorado.

Being that we come from an island where everybody knows one another and is a close-knit community, we had to get used to a different lifestyle. It was hard leaving our home, especially all of our friends and ohana, to come to a completely new place where we didn’t know anyone.  

On the flip side, the most rewarding part of opening Kealoha’s BBQ is getting to meet people from all over the world. We LOVE sharing our Hawaiian culture and aloha spirit (love) with them.

By doing so, we made so many new friends who became a part of our Kealoha’s BBQ ohana here. Although Hawai’i will always be our roots, Colorado is now our home.

WND: We recently learned that you hope to eventually open a brick-and-mortar eatery. Do you have any concrete ideas as to when and where you’ll begin that project?

K&R: We do hope to open a brick-and-mortar one day.  

We don’t have anything set up yet but that is our goal. Our dream is to one day open a place where people can come and feel like they’re in Hawai’i — not just [via] the atmosphere and “onolicious” (delicious) food/drinks but also [via] a sense of ohana and aloha spirit (love) and our Hawaiian culture.  

WND: When you eventually open a brick-and-mortar, what kind of changes or additions do you intend to make? For example, will the menu expand? Will you serve alcohol?

K&R: Back home, our ohana is very welcoming and enjoys sharing our culture and food with others, so we want our place to embody that, too — [we’ll want it to be a place] where people can feel like they belong to our ohana.  

We would expand our menu to include the ohana favorites that we cannot cook in our little kiosk now. We want to have alcohol from our Hawai’i breweries as well as a variety of our favorite island mixed drinks and also to fly over our talented Hawaiian musicians to perform.

We know those are BIG DREAMS, but we can accomplish our goal as long we take the steps to continually move forward until we reach it.  

WND: What is your favorite menu item? What is the most popular menu item you serve?

K&R: It’s hard to choose just one favorite [laughs].

Our most popular item would probably be our combo plate of lilikoi BBQ ribs and lilikoi teriyaki chicken served with rice and island mac salad. The burgers are all close in popularity, too, but probably the teriyaki burger might be first.

WND: What has been your favorite part about Denver since moving?

K&R: Since we are both born and raised on the Big Island where the seasons never really change, we love seeing the seasons change [here]. We love the sunny days here and the low humidity.  

In Hawai’i, it is super humid, so everything gets stale really fast. We love that our chips/arare stay crunchy so long and our bread stays fresh [laughs].

WND: Aside from yourselves, what is your favorite Hawaiian eatery in Colorado?

K&R: We haven’t gotten [a chance] to try any other Hawaiian places yet. We’ve been wanting to go to No Ke Aloha since they opened a restaurant and will definitely make it a point to go there soon.    

WND: What are your hopes for your business and for the future of Hawaiian culture in Colorado? What’s one misconception about Hawaiian culture that you’d like to set straight? 

K&R: Our hope for our business and the future of Hawaiian culture is to share it so that it can continue to live on and thrive outside of Hawai’i. With so many islanders leaving Hawai’i due to the high cost of living and moving to the mainland (continental USA), we hope to connect with them to keep a part of our “home” alive through our island cuisine and aloha spirit.

The biggest misconception that we would like to set straight is that the people of Hawai’i hate outsiders. [That’s not true]. From the sugar plantation days, many people immigrated to Hawai’i from all over the world to work on these plantations.

Because of all these different ethnicities, Hawai’i became such a special place. All of these cultures and traditions blended together to make Hawai’i a beautiful melting pot and we are truly blessed to have grown up in such a rich heritage.

If you go to visit Hawai’i, the main thing [we expect] is that you be respectful of the culture, the ʻĀina (land), including its inhabitants (animals, landscape, etc), and of course, the people. If you do that, your respect will be reciprocated.

WND: Can you describe Kealoha’s BBQ in 3 words? 

K&R: Ohana, aloha, and onolicious.

WND: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

K&R: Mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) for taking the time to “talk stories” with us! We really appreciate you and look forward to expanding our Kealoha’s BBQ ohana. 

Amanda Peukert

Amanda Peukert is a Los Angeles-based writer with a love for tattoos, music, food, and film. She received her BA and MFA in creative writing from California State University, Long Beach. Her work has appeared in/on SPIN, LA Taco, Tattoodo, Skin Deep, and Tattoo Energy. When she’s not writing, you can catch her listening to Alice in Chains and Tupac, or watching movies like The Crow and Halloween while eating tacos and drinking a cold beer.
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