VIRGINIA BEACH — With inspiration pulled from his southern roots and the eclectic options of Hawaiian cuisine, Chef Jesse Wykle has taken 18 years of fine-dining experience to open Aloha Snacks, a fast-casual, family-friendly restaurant on Laskin Road.
“Hawaiian food defines freshness, and I love making Asian food,” Wykle said. “We don’t serve anything processed or out of a bag. Everything we make is from scratch.”
After a whirlwind process of sealing the deal on the historic Laskin Road location that used to house Beach Pharmacy and Carroll’s Hamburgers, Aloha Snacks opened on Feb. 5 with casual dining tables, outdoor patio, and a pick-up window.
Wykle has partnered with Cromwell’s Produce and Veg Out Gardens, Commonwealth Brewery, farms from North Carolina and Charlottesville, and fresh fish distributors from Hawaii for, what Wykle calls, his “stupid good” tuna.
Having spent summers in Virginia Beach before leaving his Lynchburg home for Ole Miss, Wykle’s southern roots come through in most of his offerings including ham hock-based broth and the Oxford classic, chicken on a stick, for the kids.
All of the Aloha Snacks’ offerings are packed with iron, protein, and loads of fruits and vegetables.
“People tell me how great they feel after eating our food,” Wykle said. “It’s because we give them meals that are loaded with vitamins and homemade broths.”
In the nine days since the ribbon cutting, some favorites have emerged for Aloha’s patrons. Wykle knew he wanted to make poke bowls loaded with marinated raw fish, vegetables, fruit, and rice after seeing their popularity grow while working at upscale restaurants such as Zoe’s in Virginia Beach.
Aloha offers both tuna and salmon bowls, and the collard noodle soup comes in a close second with its hot and sour hammock-based broth, kale, and saimin noodles.
Vegans and vegetarians will also find their selection in the south Pacific farmer dish that’s stocked with black beans, beets, and quinoa salad and more.
Collard noodle soup & tuna poke bowl. (Courtesy of Aloha Snacks)
The kids menu is a priority for Wykle; having two kids of his own, he also wants to help other families by giving them healthier dining options.
“I wanted to help make a difference for families,” Wykle said. “Our offerings can help families expose kids to quality food and help people move towards a culture of healthy eating with fresh offerings.”
The choices for children include the little kahuna burger, chicken on a stick, and a pizza roll with cheese, pepperoni, marinara, and a puff pastry. All kids meals are $5 and come with a side of fries.
Main menu items start at $8 and go up to $15 for a poke bowl.
“We’re price-sensitive,” Wykle said.
Topping off the menu are dessert and drink selections that include a Portuguese donut, pineapple musubi, espresso, tea, and alcoholic beverages. Whether you are in the mood for a fresh pineapple mimosa, local ales, or a Charlottesville red, Wykle has partnered beyond local farms when creating his drink menu from Virginia breweries and wineries. Their weekly wine special offers half off bottles of wine each Wednesday.
“We like to describe ourselves as a fast-casual, healthy restaurant with alcohol,” Wykle said.
The design of the restaurant immerses you in an ocean environment. The floor provides the feel of walking on bright blue ocean water, while realistic fish and pineapple paintings adorn the walls and counter panels. Other touches of décor bring to life the old school beach scene Wykle focuses on recreating.
“I want a jungle in here in the summer with flowers and plants,” Wykle said. “We’ll also have Aloha Fridays when customers receive 10 percent off by wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a luau with surf bands once a month during the summer.”
Wykle has also made getting an Aloha Snacks meal stress-free by including a pick-up window in the design. Patrons can call ahead and grab their order from the window, and an app will be available soon to make ordering even easier.
As for his future plans, Wykle plans on bringing Aloha Snacks to other cities, and just as he did with this one, he’ll keep it fresh and local.