Even though he had recovered and devoted his
life to his family, Kwon couldn’t escape the social stigma
of his addiction. After being turned away from many jobs, even
those at Zippy’s and McDonald’s, Kwon met Steve
Comes, the manager at the ‘Ewa Beach branch of First
Hawaiian Bank. Through this chance meeting at church, Kwon
received the loan he needed to open his own restaurant. The
result was Grindz, which opened in March, and has been successful
despite Kwon’s lack of experience in the restaurant business.
Also despite the fact—or maybe because of it—that
unlike other Fort Street eateries, all five Grindz employees
are recovering drug addicts. Kwon has given them the second chance
many others wouldn’t.
The answer [to the problem] is to empower people, not to throw
money at them or into programs,” said Kwon, who plans to
give each of his employees a lunch wagon of his or her own after
two years of sobriety.
Kelly Noble, 44, has been sober for 11 months and employed at
Grindz for two. A plumber by trade and an ex-professional fighter,
Noble found it hard to find work even after maintaining his sobriety.
He credits Kwon with keeping him sober and motivated.
He has given me a second chance,” Noble said. “He’s
given me another chance in life.” While Noble wishes he
could go back and change what he’s done in his life, he’s
happy to be at Grindz where he knows he’s helping Kwon
make a difference in the community.
All profits earned at Grindz go back into the operation to maintain
the restaurant and allow Kwon to hire more employees.
The money customers spend here goes back to helping people,” said
Kwon. “That’s the bottom line.”
Kwon and the Grindz staff have won the praise of many community
leaders, like the pastors of the New Life Church on Beretania
and Nuuanu streets, who support Kwon’s efforts in helping
Grindz has attracted a faithful following of both HPU students
and others in the community, mainly through word of mouth. The
restaurant’s most popular dish is the garlic chicken, and
Kwon maintains that it is the “best around.” The
menu is expanding every week, as Kwon’s wife, Glynis, adds
new recipes to the Grindz repertoire.
Despite his accomplishments over the past year, Kwon remains
humble. “I wish I could take credit for some of this,” he
said, “but I can honestly tell you it’s not me. It’s
I’m a new being. I’m a new person, and that’s
what Grindz is all about,” said Kwon. “It’s
about giving people hope. It’s about giving people, my
employees, a chance to stand on their feet, and it’s about
me planting seeds in the kids at HPU.”