Aloha Raw Keeps Living-Foods Movement Alive on Maui

This is a love story. Not just a love story between two people, but also about their love for a lifestyle centered around gourmet raw, living foods that they believe will transform the world into a better place....
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Delivering sauerkraut, condiments, spreads, and nut butters directly to Maui consumers

This is a love story. Not just a love story between two people, but also about their love for a lifestyle centered around gourmet raw, living foods that they believe will transform the world into a better place.

Den and Aloha Lani Koro of Aloha Raw Rainbow Foods can be found at many of Maui’s farmers’ markets, because most of their business is direct-to-consumer, and that’s the way they like it. Some of their sauerkraut, condiments, spreads, and nut butters have found shelf space in local health food stores and specialty markets, but they enjoy talking story and meeting their customers face-to-face.

Den and Aloha Lani Koro of Aloha Raw Rainbow Foods. Photo by Dan Collins

To describe this couple as Russian hippies wouldn’t be far off, although those may not be the words they would choose. Their accents are thick and they speak about healthy eating incessantly and with zeal. Passionate, living-foods evangelists would probably be closer to how they identify. 

The two met in Moscow after being introduced long-distance by a mutual friend. At the time, Aloha (not her birth name, but the one she now prefers, given to her by Den long before coming to Hawaiʻi), was running a tea museum and spa in the heart of Moscow, splitting her time between it and a tea shop and culture house in Amsterdam, a project that she called “her baby”. Meanwhile, Den was earning a name as a rising star in the New York culinary scene, a pioneer in the burgeoning raw foods movement at the turn of the century, opening raw restaurants, catering big events, and preaching his healthy sermon. 

“I’ve been in the food industry for many years, and in the raw food field since the early 2000s,” he says. “I was part of the raw food movement that was big in those years, initiated by a few gurus and just people with health consciousness.”

A mutual artist friend introduced the two. Aloha had experimented with a raw food diet for three months and was feeling good about it. “I have somebody you have to meet,” Aloha recalls being told. “In a few days he wrote me a letter.” They met when Den returned to Moscow to visit his parents. Having visited the Big Island in his 20s to be part of a raw foods community there, Den had an affinity for Hawaiian culture and gave her the name “Aloha.” She didn’t know what it meant. Little did she know they would find themselves in the islands many years later. 

The pair bonded over their love of health food, ceremony, and tradition and soon shared a dream of opening a raw food restaurant to feed the people of Moscow. 

Aloha had hosted traditional tea ceremonies at her spa, which don’t typically involve food of any kind, as it can be a distraction and adversely affect the tea. But people often seemed to want food with their tea, so she set out to find foods that would compliment the tea, rather than compete with it. “In Japan they have a little snack before, but it is usually very sweet and the tea is very strong,” she explains. She started experimenting. 

Meshing Den’s expertise in raw foods with her passion for tea seemed obvious. So was born the Life Food Café, which opened in 2010 in the transformed teahouse, now decorated with paintings by visionary psychedelic artist Alex Grey.

Aloha Raw Rainbow Foods can be found at many of Maui’s farmers’ markets. Photo By Dan Collins

There was no live food movement to speak of in Russia then. What they were doing was unique at the time, and they received lots of media attention, becoming sort of a health-conscious hipster hub hidden in the heart of Moscow. 

Den was featured on a popular Russian TV show on which the host introduced contestants to different methods of weight loss and Den’s raw food diet was among the diet programs. The appearance lent him a degree of recognition that helped to draw Muscovites to their business. “To them I was this kind of famous chef from New York,” he recalls. 

“Russia for me was a very cultural and powerful place and I wanted to introduce the high aspect of the raw foods to the Russian elite,” Den remembers. Part of that dream was a plan to feed the then-rising President Vladimir Putin in hopes of improving his health and bringing peace to the world. 

“I was on a mission. Almost evangelical. I wanted to feed the president and see how his food could influence his politics.” Through his growing connections with Moscow’s upper crust, he arranged to prepare a meal for Putin, but it was canceled at the last minute, without explanation. If they had been successful in reaching the Russian president, believes Den, “This would really be a different place as of today, for sure.”

Eventually, rising rent, Putin’s reelection, and a sense that the raw movement in Russia had crested early led to the closure of the café and Den was hired by a top spa in Thailand to train their chefs how to make healthy food. So, the couple traveled to Southeast Asia, settling on Koh Samui for a time. 

Having caught the travel bug, they explored the U.S. Mainland, Central America, and Europe, at one point being gifted an invitation to a Hoʻoponopono workshop in Amsterdam, which became a turning point. Learning about the spiritual aspects of Hawaiian culture led them to travel to Maui, where they sensed that the consciousness about living foods was alive and well. 

“People here already eat healthy,” says Den. “They’re well-traveled and they’ve got the experience of other flavors, so they can understand what gourmet is, because we’re all about not just healthy but it’s gourmet and so it’s a pleasure to eat healthy.

“This is what we believe—it’s a part of our mission to transform the world—we believe that healthy food makes a healthier gut and then your thoughts get healthier, and then your behavior gets right, and your physical [body] ponopono,” Den says with the confidence of a Baptist preacher. 

They first landed in Haʻikū, but found that the ground there was too soggy for them to sink roots. After weeks of non-stop rain, Aloha said, “enough!” Invited by friends to visit the West Side, they found their little corner of paradise in Napili. A visit to the tiny Napili farmers market led them to discover the building where they now rent a private kitchen to make all their goodies. 

“Because of our connection with friends, it energetically happened that we found this kitchen,” Den declares. “For us it’s really important that it be clean, in our sense that means no meat, no dairy.” So most of the available commercial kitchens on island weren’t acceptable. “These people would call themselves vegetarian, but then we go there and they’d say, ‘yeah, the kitchen is vegetarian…except for this one guy who cooks chicken sometimes.’” 

Aloha Raw Rainbow Foods can be found at many of Maui’s farmers’ markets. Photo By Dan Collins

It’s important to work with local ingredients, they insist, always asking themselves, “What can we find locally here that we can use our skills, and even our culture, to make it even better and introduce something new to people?” As a result, several of their products are made with 100 percent local ingredients. 

Their line of food products—sold under the brands Aloha Raw, Hoʻoponopono, and Maui Temple—began with a simple attempt at preparing homemade sauerkraut, as is popular back home in Russia. Much to her delight, Aloha, a former fashion designer, discovered that she could make a rainbow of colored krauts using different kinds of cabbage. Their first products were three kinds of sauerkraut in three different colors. “I wanted to be an artist, not necessarily a chef,” she recalls. “So, [these are] my materials and I’m gonna do art with it!”

She also found that turning the kraut into a pureé not only made it less likely to cause gas, but made a perfect base for other products, like the mustard, ketchup, and mayo that they now sell. The product line includes a poi-based dehydrated gluten-free raw bread, various nut butters, and cocoa spreads. No gluten, soy, garlic, onions, oils, or added preservatives. Waste is all composted and shared with a local farmer. 

“We just trust that the Universe will nourish us and give us back enough energy so we can do it as much as we possibly can,” says Den. “We’re thinking about transforming the world. We think that every person that we help to eat better, to eat healthier, to resonate with the higher frequencies, somehow it will change our environment. And on a small island, you can see it, you know? You really do experience it.” To join the movement, just look for these Russian hippies at the next farmers’ market you visit. They’ll probably be there. Or visit aloharaw.com. 

Dan Collins

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