with Ku’ulani Imira
by Aileen Kyoko Haugh
What does our coffee ritual mean to us? Whether it's a rushed grab and go morning activity or the time-stopping conversations with a friend over lattes- we all have a unique relationship to this beverage. What does Cafe Regular mean to us Regulars who gather here on a daily basis? My interview with Ku’ulani Imira encouraged me to ponder these big questions. Ku’ulani is a charming and charismatic woman with an infectious sunniness. I met Ku’ulani on a recent afternoon at Cafe Regular Du Nord. Between the luscious curly hair and gorgeous smile punctuating her wisdom delivered in a yoga soothing speaking voice, I was instantly smitten. Looking around Cafe Regular, Ku'ulani told me: “In talking about what coffee is and the ritual of it, what you create in spaces like this is deeply meaningful. A cup of coffee with a friend is sweet but there's also a deeper significance. The energy of it translates into so many other things and moments in our lives.”
Ku’ulani’s desire to live a meaningful life informs her career as a private wellness coach, nutrition chef and yoga instructor. Originally from the Bay Area, Ku’ulani grew up in a wonderfully open and diverse community. With a keen curiosity for other cultures, her family traveled extensively, with long stays in Mexico and Hawaii: “You gain perspective and context when you find yourself in a larger world. That was always interesting to me.” Just 15, she started working in Napa Valley kitchens. One of the greatest coups of her career would be a job at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters's restaurant in Berkeley: “The core philosophy is this commitment to local, organic and sustainable food practices. Essentially, Alice spearheaded the slow food movement. It goes beyond just cooking and is about so much more. She began to teach children how to produce and cultivate their own food. So, really bringing people closer in their experience of food to its very source. Knowing that the food was grown 50 miles from where you are creates this relationship. The level of commitment that Chez Panisse operates from has been such a huge inspiration for me. I never felt pretention in the kitchen, which is very rare in the industry. In a sense there is no going back. I have always been such an aesthetic person and the fact that food could be so beautiful and bring people together in such a beautiful way- I cannot even explain!”
During her time at Chez Panisse, she also worked in a homeless shelter. The realities of the homeless shelters were an interesting counterpoint to Chez Panisse: “I gave so much at the shelters. When I went to Chez Panisse I got to soak things in.” Ku’ulani also worked hard to transform the food service at the shelters, helping them move away from primarily canned food and closer to fresh and organic providers.
Ku’ulani soon felt the call of adventure and, so, she found herself packing up her California life for a move to Tulum, Mexico. When I asked her if she spoke Spanish she laughed: “I do. I would speak Spanish any day over English”. It's amazing how much each place we plant our roots in (even if it’s for a short period of time) can teach us incredible lessons. Ku’ulani explained that she continues to benefit from her experience in Mexico everyday: “It reaffirmed how sensitive I am to maintaining balance in my life. The shelters were very difficult to be in for a long time. I had to make a choice to not be there. It was draining and affected relationships and I really needed to replenish- and that's what Mexico was for me.” Not only was she relishing the gorgeous environment but she found the time to focus on her physical health: “Feeling connected to my body and working on my physical health is ultimately a spiritual experience”.
After Mexico, Ku’ulani began her next adventure in New York City: “We feel our past mold, strengthen and shape us. However, we are still encouraged to be present and open to the changes that will invariably take place.” Ku’ulani took her experience at Chez Panisse (a place where she learned the joys of clean eating), the homeless shelter (a place in which she deepened her compassion for others) and her personal journey towards balance in Mexico and realized a calling towards the wellness world. She received her yoga teaching certification at New York’s colorful Laughing Lotus Studio. Living in New York, she has begun to shape her passion into her career as a wellness coach, yoga instructor and nutritionist.
Ku'ulani targets her health coaching to a client's specific needs, goals and their actual body: “I always say that the recipe of success is realizing that everyone is different. It takes time to work out that equation. Generally speaking, we need some support to do that. I love being that support for people. For weight loss clients, that is something that I am close to personally in my journey. I can feel what it is because sometimes I am still there. The setbacks and the progress. And then getting into the spiritual experience of it- because it is that!” Ku’ulani reminded me that weight loss is not just about food and exercise. You have to be kind to yourself: “Our relationships have so much to do with how we eat and how we sleep or how our bodies process everything. When we are stressed out, there are certain chemicals released that actually hold on to everything. It’s much bigger than food. It’s about understanding that all of these things: food, exercise, relationships, community, family, career, spirituality and how they all come together to create the experience of health.”
I commended Ku’ulani for creating a career for herself that embodies her passions and, at the same time, marries all her interests: “This is a significant departure from the typical 9-5 job. If we are talking about living happy lives, then, hell yeah, I am going to craft a life and livelihood out of the things I love. Doing this work inspires me to stay true to the things that make the biggest difference in my life and my wellness and happiness. Working with clients that have weight loss goals - I am talking to myself at the same time.”
As we wrapped up our interview, Ku’ulani brought it back to the importance of our daily rituals that bring joy into our lives. She looked around Cafe Regular and expressed: “Having now met Anne (the owner of Cafe Regular), I get this space so much more. Her heart beats so much in here. It's cool.” I felt a tingle as I looked around because I knew it was true. “In this kind of city, it’s necessary, invaluable and priceless to slow down and have a cup of coffee.” Amen.