by Len Lear
How many times do you think Leslie Frankel and James Avila, who now live in the Cherokee Apartments, have been asked why they moved from Maui, Hawaii, a paradise where it is almost always sunny and about 80 degrees, one of the world’s most popular warm-weather destinations, to Chestnut Hill late last year? (According to Wikipedia, Maui has a population of only about 140,000, but last year they were visited by almost three million tourists.)
Leslie, 44, and James, 46, owned a restaurant in Maui for 10 years but left last year and moved about 6,000 miles to Chestnut Hill, where they opened Tradewinds in January at 8630 Germantown Ave. The property was previously occupied by Stella Sera and before that, Bocelli 2 (Bocelli 1 is in the Gwynedd Valley Train Station) and before that, Al Dana. All were BYOB, as is Tradewinds.
So why leave paradise to come here? “My parents live in South Jersey, and they’re getting up there in years,” said Leslie. “My brother also lives nearby. We were away so many years, it was just time to come back home.”
“We were kinda hoping to have snow here,” added James. “We had not seen it in quite a long time.”
After graduating from Abington High School, Leslie went on to earn a BA in English at the University of Massachusetts but made some tuition money after classes by cooking at a nearby restaurant and at a co-op on campus. “I hated teaching, and a female chef I worked for said I should go visit the CIA (Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York). So I did go for a visit, and I Ioved it.”
Leslie started her studies at the CIA, generally regarded as the world’s top culinary school, in 1995 and graduated in 1997, whereupon she moved to New York City. She wound up working 60 to 65 hours a week as a line cook at Foley’s Seafood Restaurant (now closed) in the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square for two years.
She then moved to Beaver Creek, Colorado, a popular destination for skiers (“in the middle of nowhere”), and worked at a Hyatt Hotel there. She then worked for two casino-hotels in Atlantic City and then to Hawaii, than back to Atlantic City and then back to Hawaii in 2005, where she met James, whose mom, aunt and sister all owned Korean restaurants in Hawaii.
The couple, who have now been married for 10 years, opened a restaurant in 2008 on a mountain in Maui, the Pukalani Clubhouse, which is attached to a golf course at the Pukalani Country Club. (They also did kosher catering.) “We served three meals a day for 365 days a year for eight years,” said James. “We were too dumb to know any better. The lease demanded it. We did take a day off now and then. We catered to golfers as well as the neighborhood. We had a full bar. Liquor licenses are a lot cheaper in Hawaii than here. Everything else is more expensive there.”
After selling their restaurant in Hawaii, James moved to Chestnut Hill last October, followed by Leslie in December. “We looked (for a restaurant location) in Fishtown, Kensington and other places, but we liked Chestnut Hill,” said Leslie. “Wissahickon Park is a big draw for us. We love the trails. My dad does stained glass repair, and he brought in the stained glass for the restaurant. Our menu here has more of the flavors we enjoy ourselves — Japanese, Canadian, Korean, German, etc. In Hawaii we would have pot luck dinners, and everyone would bring a dish. Asian Fusion is a big deal now all over the country. We had that for decades.”
The menu at Tradewinds, unlike anything else in the immediate area, is inspired by Hawaii and by the owners’ peripatetic travels. Some of the more adventurous items are the Stone Pot Bi Bim Bap, a Korean dish served in a hot stone bowl with kimchi and lots of other goodies; and several kinds of Poké, a raw fish salad that is nearly ubiquitous in Hawaii.
Tom Amodie, co-owner of Chestnut Hill Sporting Goods, next to Tradewinds, told us recently, “They are getting good crowds every night, unlike any of the restaurants that were in the location before.”
Leslie and James, who signed a five-year lease, are currently serving lunch and Sunday brunch in addition to dinner. James, who has a fine arts degree from the University of Hawaii, is a talented painter whose gorgeous floral paintings are on the walls. He also did IT (Information Technology) work for 20 years for the Hyatt and Fairmount Hotels, but he quit technology to work full-time in the restaurant, which seats about 50.
James and Leslie do not have any two-legged children, but they do have a Terrier mix and a Black Lab mix who, we presume, do like Hawaiian-inspired food.
More information at 215-842-5111 or www.tradewindsbyob.com