Empty Bowl, Full Heart

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Story by Rita Goldman | Photography by Jason Moore

Star Noodle Empty Bowl fundraiser

On Saturday, April 12, Star Noodle and the Maui Organization for the Ceramic Arts (MOCA) will host Empty Bowl — a street celebration with entertainment, handcrafted art, and the Asian-inspired dishes that have earned this popular Lahaina eatery an oodle or two of awards. A benefit for the Maui Food Bank and other local nonprofits, Empty Bowl is a worthy cause wrapped up in a party.

Consider this your invitation.

For a $25 donation, you get to select — and keep — a ceramic bowl crafted by a Maui artist. You also get one free visit to a noodle bar where you can concoct the ramen or soba dish of your dreams. (If that doesn’t fill you up, purchase some scrip and dig into Star Noodle favorites like veggie or pork buns, nori chicken, miso salmon and pohole salad.)

The Empty Bowls Project started in 1990, when an art teacher had students create ceramic bowls for a charity dinner. Attendees purchased the bowls, used them that evening, and took them home. With that one brilliant stroke, the empty bowl, a metaphor for hunger, became a way to support organizations that provide meals to those in need. In the years since, this grassroots project has expanded across twenty countries, with each community putting its own spin on the idea.

In 2010, a group of artists working in clay created the Maui Organization for the Ceramic Arts and wrote community service into their mission. That same year, the restaurant group Na Hoaloha ‘Ekolu launched Star Noodle, third in a family of restaurants that includes Aloha Mixed Plate, Old Lahaina Lu‘au, and Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop.

Like MOCA, Na Hoaloha believes in giving back, says co-owner Michael Moore. “We want to develop community events for each of our venues — like the “Buy Back the Beach” fundraiser Old Lahaina Lu‘au hosts every year for the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust. I’d read about the Empty Bowl Project, and thought it was a good fit for Star Noodle. I called my friend Kevin Omuro, an amazing ceramic artist, to see how we could get other artists to participate. He told me about MOCA — Kevin is a member — and we realized we’d found the perfect collaboration.”

MOCA president Karen Whittingham says that the group’s two-dozen members donate time and talent to create up to 400 bowls for the party. “MOCA has been great to work with,” Moore adds. “The artists even arrange classes for our staff, so our employees’ bowls can be included in the project.”

Star Noodle donates food, and suspends regular operations to prepare for the event during the day and host it at night — giving up lunch and dinner revenues while paying employees to cook and staff the event.

In 2013, more than 700 Maui residents and visitors attended Empty Bowl, helping Star Noodle and MOCA raise $12,000 for the Maui Food Bank, Hale Mahaolu (an assisted-living facility), and several other local nonprofits.

With an Empty Bowl like this, our cup surely runneth over.

Empty Bowl at Star Noodle
Saturday, April 12, 2014, 5:30-8 p.m.
286 Kupuohi Street in Lahaina Business Park (above Lahaina Gateway Center)
808-667-5400 | www.starnoodle.com

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