Our Story

Our story began in 2013, when award-winning Chef James and Realtor Christine Babian first opened Pueo’s Osteria in Waikoloa Village. They decided to open Pueo’s as a gathering place where the community and visitors can enjoy great food, boutique wines, and handcrafted cocktails, in a fun and upbeat environment.

“Food, Wine & Fun!”

In Italy, an Osteria is a small gathering place where villagers would meet to enjoy a beverage and conversation after work. The Pueo is an indigenous owl, native to Hawai‘i. We are an evening-only restaurant – hence, the name Pueo’s Osteria.

Where the night owls meet

Chef Jim’s culinary approach is “RSA” – regional, seasonal, and artisanal. We source from the region; we stay in the season; and we support local artisans who produce amazing goat cheese, smoked Hawaiian sea salt, white organic honey, and Kona coffee espresso, just to name a few.

Our passion is Italian cuisine; we import the finest Italian products and pair them with a philosophy of regional sourcing. Chef Jim has always worked closely with local farmers, fishermen, and ranchers to source ingredients and create Italian seasonal menus for all to enjoy.

Food that nourishes and land that sustains

While Chef Jim’s focus, along with Chef Jaron, was on the cuisine and preparing the kitchen staff, Christine focused on the front of house and all design aspects (especially our lighted tree).

“At the end of the day, it’s all concrete and paint. It’s the staff that brings us to life. They’re our most precious resource.”

~A truly from-scratch restaurant~

Community Involvement

Kona Church Golf Tournament

Locally Sourced

Hawaiian Kanpachi

Blue Ocean Mariculture kampachi, are sustainably-raised in submersible sea pens off Keahole Point in Kona on Hawaii Island. Native kampachi exist in oceans all over the world, making this one of the most versatile fish species for use in cuisines from every culture. Raised without antibiotics or hormones, and nourished with non-GMO nutrition, kampachi is also an excellent source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids, helping to reduce the risk of high cholesterol, heart disease, and elevated blood pressure.

Kekala Farm

Kekela Farms is a family-run business dedicated to growing vegetables of the highest quality and with exceptional flavor. Our farmers market showcases more than 30 different vegetables - over 100 varieties in all. Most are available year-round, while some come and go with the Waimea seasons. On the farm, we practice safe, responsible, and sustainable agriculture, growing our jewel-like lettuce and other produce to meet the standards of U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Production program.

Adaptations Inc.

Adaptations Inc. is at the forefront of local sustainable agriculture in Hawaii. Adaptations grows its own certified organic crops on two farms. Veggies, herbs and fruit grow on our 7.5 acre farm in Honaunau and coffee and veggies grow on our one acre farm in Captain Cook. We also source island grown crops from over 100 other growers on the island.

Our Team

James Babian

Executive Chef / Proprietor

If Chef Jim wasn’t born with an actual culinary gene, the passion for cooking was definitely in his blood. Life in his large Mediterranean family —Armenian on his father’s side and Sicilian on his mother’s—was centered around the kitchen. In fact, one of Jim’s earliest memories is there, helping his grandmother roll stuffed grape leaves. And, when other kids were playing outside, he was watching The Galloping Gourmet, Yan Can Cook, and Julia Child’s The French Chef. Chef Jim’s journey took him to Chicago and to California, where he met lifetime mentor, Joyce Goldstein, chef/owner of the venerable Square One in San Francisco, and two-time James Beard Award winner. From her, Jim cultivated a meticulous respect for the senses of fine food—the sounds and rhythm of the kitchen, the final presentation, scent, texture and taste. His philosophy today brings the warmth of his family kitchen together with sophisticated technique to create a dining experience worthy of his culinary ancestors. Like them, Chef Jim believes in a regional, seasonal, and artisanal approach to procuring foods, and achieves that through strong ties to local farming, fishing and ranching families. He also imports some of the finest products in the world to meld with the freshest, locally sourced ingredients, from the plant to the plate. “At Pueo’s, your culinary adventure will be grounded in Hawaiʻi,” Chef Jim is fond of saying. “But the flavors will take you abroad to Italy.”

Christine Babian

Proprietor

Not only is Christine Babian the Proprietor and 50% of Team Babian; she’s an award-winning top producer for EXP Realty. And while the worlds of real estate and restaurants may seem different, to Christine they’re all about the same thing: making people happy. Christine’s 30+ years of experience includes front and back of the house service, banquets, catering, and now as co-owner. She believes in five-star guest service from soup to nuts. As a result, she’s fostered lifelong friendships through the restaurant with both local residents and folks traveling from abroad. “Restaurants, food and wine, it’s a passion,” Christine says. “For Jim and I, it’s what we do.” She and Chef Jim operate as a team at home and in the restaurant, finding that balance that makes everything work.

JT Yadao

General Manager

Born on Hawai‘i Island, Yadao brings more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant and tourism industry to Pueo’s. Yadao began as an in-room dining server at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai in 1998 and then served as bartender at the Orchid at Mauna Lani/Fairmont Orchid from 2001 to 2006. That was when he first worked with Pueo’s owner James Babian, who was the executive chef at the Orchid at the time. Yadao then worked as the bar manager at Rio’s of Kona from 2003 to 2008. He moved to Montana in 2010 and continued gaining professional experience on the mainland as general manager at The Montana Club and The Craggy Range. After returning to the Hawai‘i Island in 2016, he was the general manager of Abay’s Bar and Grill in the King Shops in Waikoloa until 2022. He began working at Pueo’s Osteria in January 2023 and is honored to be named the new general manager.

Jaron Balunso

Chef De Cuisine

Highly-respected by the Pueo’s culinary team, Chef Jaron takes particular pride in crafting daily specials that take taste to the next level, and bring guests back just to see what he creates next. Hawai‘i Island born and raised, he has an innate understanding of our diverse food culture, and the special local ingredients that bring it to life. Chef Jaron graduated from the Culinary Arts program at Hawai‘i Community College, and right away went to work at some of Hawaii’s finest resort restaurants: Westin Hapuna Beach’s Meridia, and Four Seasons Hualālai’s ‘Ulu, and Beach Tree Bar & Grill, where he met his professional mentor, Chef James Babian. In 2017, Jaron’s journey took him to Calistoga, California where he stepped up his game at the Michelin-rated Solbar at the Solage, an Auberge Resort. He returned to Hawai‘i the following year, and joined the enthusiastic team at Pueo’s Osteria, as the enjoyed increasing success. And, although Chef Jim calls him his right hand man, Jaron is a humble man with a pure love of good food, and the special flavors of his island home.

Local Farms & Partners

NOE Farms | Kawamata Farms Tomatoes | Kekela Farms | Kamuela Tomatoes | Tess Family Farms | Kona Abalone | Kona Shrimp | Blue Ocean Mariculture: Hawaiian Kanpachi | Maiau Farms | Puna Chicks | Big Island Goat Dairy | Hawaiian Volcano Sea Salt | Hawaii Beef Producers | Parker Ranch Paniolo Cattle Company | Hamakua Hearts of Palm | Kona Fish Company | Suisan Fish Company | The Fishermanʻs Fish | Adaptations Farm | Denise Trunk | Rachel Adessa | New Beginning Farm | Will Pote | ʻAama Farm | Jerry Walsh | George Peavy | Roger Adviento | Bill Adams | Ahuimanu Farm | Johnson Family Farm | Rincon Family Farm | Jeff Buffington | Kealaʻola Farm | Huluhulu Farm | ʻAnoʻAno Farm | Ha Farms | Makana Raw | OK Farms | Lapaʻau Farm | Hamakua Mushrooms | Mermaid Mushrooms | Ginger Ridge Farms | Mahi Pono Farm | Local Harvest | Roy Honda Farm | PAws Farm | Heart of Palm Hawaii | J.Wang | Hawaiian B Natural | Pepito Valdez | Hawaii Ulu Producers Coop. | Royal Sea Farms