Restaurant offers Hawaiian experience

Barbecue shop owner says food can express culture, students should expand palates, life experiences



Married LocoGrinz owners Gayne and Tanya Nitta say their goal is authenticity. Tanya says she cooks from scratch with love.

CHLOE GRUNDMEIER, Evergreen reporter

LocoGrinz brings Hawaiian food with a local touch to the Palouse, and has done so since 2001.

Owner Gayne Nitta returned to his birthplace of Moscow after his parents raised him in Hawaii. He wanted to supply some of the college students in the area with a more diverse palate.

“Food is one way to express my culture,” Gayne said. “Understanding other cultures, even a bit, broadens your perspective and understanding. It helps to challenge you and leads to growth and being a more enriched person.”

After he worked in a restaurant in Hawaii and earned his BA in business there, Gayne said he combined his skills and started LocoGrinz from the ground up with his wife, Tanya. LocoGrinz serves fully homemade, traditional Hawaiian barbecue dishes such as chicken katsu, short ribs, pulled pig and a Hawaiian favorite, Loco Moco — a beef patty with brown gravy and a Sunnyside egg.

“I combined my love of business with my experience in the kitchen,” Gayne said. “At school, I learned that the first [business of its kind] into a market has a competitive advantage, and that led to LocoGrinz.”

Gayne gave base versions of family recipes to his wife, and she modified them to fit the taste of the restaurant. Tanya said she made the recipes unique to their restaurant and makes all sauces from scratch without any MSG.

“I love to be a part of the student memory and the college life,” Tanya said. “They come back and visit us at homecoming, and it’s great to know we impacted them.”

LocoGrinz is named for bringing the local taste of Hawaii to Moscow. Loco means local, and grinz is Hawaiian slang for food. Hawaiians traditionally serve barbecue with a side of white rice and macaroni salad, Tanya said. LocoGrinz offers these sides as well as others for those who want to make their dish unique. They also offer varying levels of spice on several dishes so anyone can enjoy true Hawaiian barbecue, Tanya said.

“Hawaiian barbecue is the McDonald’s of Hawaii,” Tanya said. “I make food with love and cook with pride. I want to give everyone good food and have a relationship with my customers.”

LocoGrinz serves an important role on the Palouse because it provides variety to the area and gives locals new experiences, Gayne said.

“From my experiences in life, the more experiences you have, it adds to your overall [life],” Gayne said. “Travel and other cultures impact your life rather than being stuck in the same routine.”

LocoGrinz is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and is located at 113 N. Main St. in Moscow. For more information, visit their website.

“Students can see what it would be like if they were in Hawaii by coming here,” Tanya said. “The food tells you the story about where it came from.”