Bringing the aloha spirit to Clay County

Wednesday, July 10, 2024
SUBMITTED PHOTO. Lei Marion and Reagan Keilani split their time between The Mixed Plate storefront and their ever-popular food truck.

The Mixed Plate’s ever-popular food truck has brought a taste of the islands to the Wabash Valley.

In January, residents were delighted to hear of a permanent way to get their Hawaiian fix. The mother-daughter team of Leialoha (Lei) Marion and Reagan Keilani now split their time serving up their unique Hawaiian-inspired dishes from the food truck and their permanent location in Harmony.

“We’ve kind of become a destination spot because not only is it new for this area, there’s not a whole lot in this state. We have a lot of people that drive an hour or two to come here. I stress to them that it’s not about service; it’s about the customer experience,” said Marion.

Aloha is a standard greeting in Hawaii, but it goes beyond a hello or farewell. It expresses the warmth, sincerity, kindness, and unity of Hawaii. The Mixed Plate’s welcoming, family atmosphere exemplifies the aloha spirit.

“We always cook together. Cooking and food is definitely our family’s love language,” said Keilani. “It’s kind of how we show appreciation.”

With the Mixed Plate’s family atmosphere, you’ll most likely see one of Keliani’s three young sons or Marion’s son at the restaurant, where they often want to jump in and help. Keilani says it was essential to have the atmosphere and menu as accessible and kid-friendly as possible.

“It’s super important to us. I have three kids; my brother is nine. They’ll always be here, so we want to make it as inviting and welcoming for them just as much as anybody else’s kids.”

In a previous article, Marion expressed her hope to expand the concept of Hawaiian cuisine at The Mixed Plate. She explained that the Hawaiian Islands are a melting pot of different cultures, and these diverse influences are reflected in the unique flavors of their dishes. For special ingredients, the duo orders online and makes weekly trips to Indianapolis international markets. One of the most surprising local favorites is spam.

“We had used about 300 cans of spam in just the first two months,” said Marion. “People like it, or they grew up on it; it’s nostalgic.”

Marion and Keilani have worked in various roles in restaurant settings but are now in new, unchartered territory, running their businesses. Both say taxes were the most intimidating and significant hurdle to conquer.

“I didn’t realize how much goes into the business aspect, like taxes,” said Keilani. “How many things go on that people don’t see once the food’s on their table.”

Keilani advises those considering entrepreneurship: don’t let one bad moment ruin your day.

“Remember that it’s just food. You’re always going to have the best and worst customers, but at the end of the day, you have to remember it’s just food. A bad table does not make for a bad day.”

The duo says the most popular item is the one-meat mixed plate with teriyaki chicken, which is closely followed by the crab rangoon grilled cheese. Those visiting the restaurant in the coming days will notice a new menu with new items.

“It’s going to have a lot of adding on things. We’re not taking much away, just one or two things.”

The Mixed Plate also offers Sunday brunch with a unique menu filled with specials each Sunday. (The original menu is still available.)

“Although the Hawaiian food is the basis of what we do, there’s so many more things that we love. Sunday is the day when we can experiment and do something different.”

Breakfast, lunch, and appetizer options are available.

Community members have found their favorite comfort meals since The Mixed Plate’s official storefront opening in March. The duo is overwhelmed by the fantastic support from the community, and they credit their success to the loyalty of their customers.

“Clay County, the community, the little town of Harmony, everybody has been so nice, welcoming, and patient. We have been insanely blessed between here and the truck.”

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