Local-first, organic when possible, with aloha always is the motto driving Ed Kenney’s chic Town Restaurant in Kaimuki and Downtown at the Hawaii State Art Museum. He hires homeless employees whenever possible, donates cooking oil to be converted into biofuels, uses recycled paper from old menus for coasters, and makes his own mozzarella cheese.

Find out by reading the full interview with Ed, below (short version published in the Honolulu Advertiser in March 2007) why he reads about cooking, yes, but also business and code-breaking.

What I’m Reading | Ed Kenney

Chef/Owner Town & Downtown Restaurants

Q&A with Christine Thomas

–What are you reading?

I’m reading any of a number of five to six books at a time. I’ve got The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, which is really heavy. … I’ve got Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by the guy who owns Patagonia, which is a really earth-friendly company and our fundamentals are based on the same social-enterprise model. … Then I’ve got “The Eight,” which is in the The Da Vinci Code realm. Every once in a while I want to think about things that aren’t super important.

But the one I’m super psyched about is Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer, who owns seven or eight restaurants in New York City. He’s always been one of my idols as far as business goes because he’s a successful businessman and restaurateur, but also a family man. In the restaurant business maintaining both can be difficult and he’s successful at it. I relate it to myself quite a bit.

–How does it connect?

He’s been successful in opening restaurants that have a large local customer base, and what we get here in Hawai`i is most restaurants depend a lot on visitors. At Town we’re trying to attract a majority of locals. In his book he talks about what he calls “enlightened hospitality”—elevating the experience beyond food service, atmosphere, décor and value. He’s been really successful in attracting a local repeat customer base. So there’s that side, but on the other side he talks about how he integrates family and business together.

–Does this window into his success reinvigorate your own family-centered business philosophy?

Exactly. We close on Sundays, which the author doesn’t do, but at the restaurant we think it’s important to have that one day with your family or people you care about. Working in restaurants for the past oodles of years, I’ve never had Saturday off; the only way I’ve had it off is to open my own restaurant. It’s easy to get lost in your work. Basically in his book he re-stresses the importance of family. It’s really inspiring.

–Does reading help you achieve this balance in work and life?

Every once in a while I read for recreation, something that takes me away to another place, but I really gravitate to books that I can relate to my own life and take something away from it that can help me be a better person.

–Is that why you moved from commercial real estate to restaurants?

As you go through life your priorities start somewhere but slowly fall into place, and I went to business school and it was a perfect opportunity; when I came back from business school there was a job here. It does require a lot of work but it was commission-based, and I found it wasn’t intrinsically rewarding. I took time off, traveled and reflected and put things in order.

Even this restaurant is constantly evolving. I started doing local-first, and using organic products because of quality and because my mom instilled it in me, but I’ve opened a can of worms about the impacts of the food system on energy and everything else. Who knows where I’ll be in the next ten years?