SPRINGFIELD – When Lani Moku Grill owners Brittany and Lacy Hunt first met at Round Table in Thurston, they couldn’t have known this building would come to mean so much.
In 2006, Lacy was working as a supervisor at Round Table. Not long after, Brittany started working at Round Table, too, and became close friends.
“The work crew was very tight-knit. We would work together and then hang out together all the time,” Lacy said.
Flash forward to 2017, they started dating and in 2019, they were married with four kids, running their own business, Lani Moku Grill.
In May, Lani Moku Grill will open its first brick and mortar location at 5547 Main St., which previously housed Round Table Pizza.
Lani Moku Grill has served classic Hawaiian food since its inception in 2014, when it was serving food out of pop-up tents, and selling out.
“The idea came from being able to have some sort of cuisine that you could just set up under a tent, cook, keep it warm, and serve … and it just sold out. It went from an idea to ‘this has to happen’ … The community grew Lani Moku and that’s just the truth,” Lacy said.
As business grew, Lani Moku moved into the food truck business when the Eugene Beergarden opened in 2015.
“We’ve had a really good following. It just has continued to be busy. And we have always dreamed of having a brick and mortar. We were looking for a brick and mortar pre-Covid, which now we’re thankful that it didn’t happen then,” Brittany said.
Lacy has always been surrounded by food. “All my friends from school’s recollections are of my dad cooking them breakfast,” she said.
Brittany has been more interested in running the business side of things.
The Covid pandemic brought staffing and business challenges that all restaurants faced, but Lani Moku Grill managed to stay in business, with the open-air environment at Beergarden being key.
“With Covid and the disconnection that we’ve all faced … we really want to try to reconnect families and give them a great experience when they come and dine here,” Lacy said.
During the summer of 2019, Lani Moku also moved into PublicHouse, the multi-kitchen, indoor and outdoor eatery located in the heart of downtown Springfield.
Around the same time, the Hunts got married and adopted Lacy’s three nephews, which required more time dedicated to being at home.
Feeling overstretched, the Hunts decided to scale back.
“It’s always been fun for us, and especially when we do our events and it didn’t feel right. We said, ‘Let’s dial back and see what the future holds,’” Brittany said.
The Hunts refocused and set their sights on opening up their first brick and mortar.
“Now the timing was just perfect for this place. We had the perfect amount of time to adjust our kids and get them adapted. And Thurston needs it,” Lacy said.
Previously owned and operated for 28 years by the Nishiguchi family, the Round Table owners and staff had become like family to the Hunts since working together.
With the Hunts hoping to make an appearance in Thurston, it seemed too good to be true when the Hunts heard that Len and Leslie Nishiguchi were looking to sell. After having lunch with the Nishiguchi’s, they came to an agreement to sell.
Only adding to the sentimental value of the space, Lacy used it in her proposal to Brittany.
“I did a scavenger hunt for her that led her up to Hoodoo and (Round Table) was the very first stop,” Lacy said. “I made her a pizza and it was waiting in the back room with a little video. … This place is special to us, too. It is a part of the community that we’ve always tried to get into.”
The new location will feature a bar with signature Hawaiian drinks and Lani Moku will be bringing back its strawberry guava cheesecakes, which are “like gold,” according to the Hunts.
The Hunts feel grateful for the community’s continued support.
“There wasn’t a single person that can take credit for the success of Lani Moku; it really is the community and that’s why we started doing #LMGgivesback,” Lacy said.
In June of 2018, the Hunts started “LMG gives back.” Running through September, each month, the Hunts donate $1 from every plate sold on Tuesdays to local nonprofits.
“The sustainability of Lani Moku belongs to the community, which is why we’re stoked to be in Thurston and actually give to a community that really needs it,” Lacy said.
With slim pickings in Thurston for to-go food, the Hunts want to give people of all ages a fun place to go; this starts with the atmosphere.
The Hunts’ first step is to brighten up the space. As it stands, the previous pizza parlor is dim and decorated with maroon- and tan-colored paint that the Hunts painted themselves over a decade ago.
With their bright blue and pink branding, the Hunts plan to deliver a jaw-dropping transformation.
They will also be expanding the kitchen to fit all their appliances and the volume of food they plan to produce. Which judging by the reaction from the community, will be a lot.
“We wanted to give back to the community that had been giving to us for so many years,” Lacy said. This includes providing things for kids to do, games for families to play, signature drinks, and an outdoor space, which the Hunts plan to build after a year of business.
“Thurston is going to really support it, I believe, and it will hopefully grow from there,” Lacy said.