Kelvin Ro, award winning chef and owner of Diamond Head Market and Grill, has pledged $1 million to support the University of Hawaiʻi Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head (CIP). In recognition of this pledge the Open Kitchen in the Signature Restaurant at CIP will be named the “Kelvin Ro and Diamond Head Market and Grill Open Kitchen.”

UH Vice President for Community Colleges John Morton said, “Kelvin’s passion for the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head is a major reason this dream is now becoming a reality. His generous contribution ensures that we can now proceed with the next phase, including the development of the signature restaurant on the old Cannon Club site. We are ever grateful, not just for this gift, but for his continuing, untiring support.”

Ro was born in Wahiawā, and his family’s restaurants launched his illustrious culinary career. He graduated from Waipahu High School and earned a business degree at the UH Mānoa. In the mid 1980s he started a catering company and then Lehua’s Bay City Bar and Grill, a restaurant in Hilo. In 1994 he opened The Kahala Moon Cafe in East Honolulu which garnered many accolades and awards.

When Ro closed Kahala Moon Cafe, he became a chef/instructor at the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapiʻolani Community College. Today, his relationship with the school remains strong, and he is a very active volunteer fundraiser working to build support for Kapiʻolani CC’s two-year culinary program and the advanced-training two-year Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head program.

“About 20 years ago Governor Cayetano’s administration asked me to work with Kapiʻolani CC on building a restaurant lab and a new culinary campus. This happened around the same time as I was a guest speaker in the culinary arts department. Meeting the students inspired me to pass on my knowledge and get behind the efforts to bring advanced culinary education to Hawaiʻi,” Ro said.

“It feels incredible to be able to make this gift on behalf of all of us at Diamond Head Grill and the many customers who have become our extended family.” Ro added, “I want to give back to UH and serve as an example of someone from Hawaiʻi who is giving what he can to make our university better for future generations. I really hope this gift inspires others to also contribute.”

Ro attributes much of his business success to the education he received at UH. ”I think my business education really helped me gain the skills I needed to succeed in today’s competitive food and beverage industry. I understand the importance of learning business applications that you do not learn at a two-year culinary program and am thrilled that the CIP will be offering a four-year baccalaureate degree with a restaurant management and business ownership curriculum, combining culinary arts with a business degree. I wish there was a program like that when I went to school in the 1980’s, but I’m glad it will become a reality for future generations.”

six people standing in a line
Chef Kelvin Ro pledged $1 million toward the continued development of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head at a reception on March 28. From left, UH President David Lassner, First Lady Dawn Ige, Governor David Ige, Ro, UH Vice President for Community Colleges John Morton and CIP Director Conrad Nonaka. (Photo credit: UH Foundation)

Fundraising effort underway

In 2017 the university received a $20 million state appropriation for the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head. This came with a $10 million private philanthropy contingency.

Phase IIa: Upon raising $5 million in private support the state will release $10 million. Construction for Phase IIa will include the signature restaurant (a teaching facility on the site of the old Cannon Club), and a single structure housing two advanced teaching labs.

With Kelvin Ro’s gift, the $5 million goal has been met.

Phase IIb: Upon raising the second $5 million in private support, the state will release an additional $10 million and construction will begin on Phase IIb. This phase will include the competition/demonstration auditorium, a structure to house three classrooms and an administration building.

$1,350,000 has been raised towards the $5 million goal.

Donna Vuchinich, president and CEO of the UH Foundation said, “Thanks to Kelvin and our other tremendously generous donors, we are ready to ask for the matching support offered by the state. We look forward to partnering with others who are passionate about Hawaiʻi and our future, to keep this positive momentum going and help us bring the complete vision of the CIP to life.”

From UH Foundation