After two years of getting to know his customers in Douglas County, chef and owner Rich Braunthal is bringing changes to his Hawaiian fusion restaurant on Mercantile Street.
“I’ve learned about our customers there in Castle Rock and what they’re looking for,” Braunthal told Colorado Community Media. “I felt it was kind of time to try something different.”
After decades of restaurant experience in Hawaii and Colorado, Braunthal opened Ohana Grille in the The Meadows’ Town Center in November 2020. The restaurant serves dishes inspired by the blending of cultures that Braunthal sees in Hawaii and in his own life.
Asian, Hispanic and American influences mingle on the menu which features meaty mains, grilled fish, savory sandwiches and innovative tacos. The restaurant’s most popular entree is the combination plate with slow-cooked kalua pork and chicken katsu, that is, breaded and fried chicken thighs with a sweet and tangy sauce. Grilled Spam and rice wrapped in roasted seaweed, an appetizer called Spam musubi, is also a favorite.
“We go through cases and cases of Spam a week for that particular little item,” Braunthal said. Ohana Grille, he said, has hooked a lot of formerly non-Spam-eating people on the $3 snack.
While the fusion aspect of the eatery will continue, the 55-year-old restaurateur said he’s tweaking the theme with new menu items and modifications to the decor.
Currently, large windows, a blue-gray ceiling and canoe paddles on the wall give the dining room a mild beachy feel. But in the next few months, the eatery will take on a paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboy, theme. Braunthal is incorporating more beef and more potatoes into new dishes he’s developing as he adds some Western touches to the Hawaiian vibe already in place.
In addition to the Castle Rock location, Ohana Grille has another full-service restaurant in Edgewater and a catering kitchen near the University of Denver. As the owner of all three, Braunthal finds himself pulled in many directions, but he’s made an effort to be in the Castle Rock kitchen recently. He estimates he cooks about 20 hours a week there, usually on weekend evenings, as he slowly implements changes.
Braunthal said he always had an interest in food and began cooking at an early age as part of caring for his younger brothers while his parents worked. Ohana means family in Hawaiian and the food Ohana Grille serves is tied up with Braunthal’s family experiences.
Born in Santiago, Chile, Braunthal spent his late childhood in California where he ate his mother’s traditional Chilean meals when cooking wasn’t handed over to him. He traces his love of cilantro and chiles to his South American roots. Half of family lives in Israel, he said, which broadens his cultural background. In his late teens and 20s, Braunthal worked in Waikiki restaurants that specialized in sauteed and grilled food before he opened a restaurant on a naval base in Oahu. He also spent time with his late wife’s family in Seoul, Korea, where he picked up more techniques and flavor profiles.
“There’s a lot of stuff from all over that comes through,” Braunthal said. “Just kind of inadvertently shows up in some of what we do.”
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