Hawaii's Holey Grail Donut Shop Stands Out Thanks To A Key Ingredient

Hawaiian food is much more than pineapples on pizza. The small strip of islands in the Pacific Ocean has a rich gastronomy, dating back to as early as 300 AD when Native Hawaiians prepared meat and fish in earth ovens and planted crops like coconuts, sweet potatoes, yams, and taro. Over time, settlement and immigration across the state's eight islands brought in influences from Portugal, Puerto Rico, and East Asia, resulting in an eclectic food scene unique to Hawaii that is famous for its lomi lomi, plate lunches, and Spam musubi.

Although donuts aren't typically considered part of the traditional Hawaiian diet, Holey Grail Donuts, a donut shop founded in Hanalei, Kauai, is quickly changing that. By connecting with local taro (or kalo) farmers, Holey Grail Donuts taps into the island's native heritage with their taro-based donuts. What began as a donut shop operating from a small red trailer has turned into multiple locations across other parts of Hawaii and Southern California with big-name investors like Tony Hawk, and an impressive list of board members, including the Ghetto Gastro founder Jon Gray and Blue Bottle's Saki Igawa.

Taro and Holey Grail Donuts

For more than a thousand years, fields of taro, or as it's known locally, kalo, have grown abundantly across the wet and dry land of Hawaii. Being deeply nutritious, taro has served as a staple in the Native Hawaiian diet since ancient times. But taro is much more than a food source – it's a way to connect to Hawaiian heritage and the ancient ʻāina, the Hawaiian term used to describe the land and sea as sources of life and sustenance. Through the ancient story of Hāloa, taro is a symbol of the reciprocal relationship between the Hawaiian people and their land. 

To honor this heritage and share it with others, Holey Grail Donuts intentionally built its supply chain around Hawaii's local taro farmers. "We were inspired to develop a product based on the beauty of our surroundings in Kauai. Taro as the base of the dough, and rotating seasonal ingredients as the garnishes. Taro also happens to be significantly better for you than other forms of starch, and tastier in a donut in my opinion," co-founder Nile Dreiling explains to Tasting Table.

In focusing on taro, Holey Grail Donuts keeps their supply chain close while connecting Hawaii to people far and wide. "Our responsibility is to build awareness by connecting consumers to producers ... If you know the farmer who grew your meal, do you not have a more blissful experience eating it? This is a new principle to the donut industry," Dreiling adds.