By: Annaliese Gumboc
Friday, June 30, Waikiki restaurant Giovanni Pastrami hosted the UH Men’s Basketball team, kicking off the team’s second year of partnership with Braddahhood Grindz. Athletes were invited to enjoy a free meal and form connections with event guests, which included Governor Josh Green and a number of local business owners.
Braddahhood Grindz was first conceived by Giovanni Pastrami owner, Ryan Tanaka, as a nutritional program to support UH football players throughout the summer.
In 2022, Tanaka befriended new Hawai’i head coach, Timmy Chang, who had taken over a football team suffering from low morale. After Tanaka hosted Chang at Giovanni Pastrami, UH football players and coaches began regularly attending the restaurant for meals. “From that experience, I felt like I wanted to help [Chang] in a bigger way, because his culture was at an all time low,” Tanaka said.
Tanaka started by donating copies of Rusty Komori’s books, Beyond the Lines and Beyond the Game, to the UH football team. Then, Chang asked if Tanaka could feed his players over the summer.
Tanaka knew he couldn’t do it alone. As the incoming chair of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, Tanaka approached other restaurant owners with the idea. Three agreed to help: Gyotaku, Kuhio Food Hall, and Ruby Tuesday’s Hawaii. Together, the four restaurants planned to provide football players with one meal a week from May 30 to July 31, 2022. Thus, Braddahhood Grindz was born.
The program quickly ran into legal troubles. “Just to feed them, I thought was gonna be easy,” Tanaka said. “But then I got a call from UH athletics. They met with me and five compliance officers came. They said we can’t feed the players and the coaches, like there’s all these rules against it.”
To skirt NCAA rules, Braddahhood Grindz entered NIL agreements with every participating player, then turned their events into fundraisers, allowing coaches to participate as well.
Soon after its roll-out, other Rainbow Warriors began expressing interest in the partnership. Braddahhood Grindz progressively expanded to include Men and Women’s Basketball, Volleyball, Golf, and Soccer, spurring the creation of a Wahine counterpart, Sistahhood Grindz.
Ryan Tanaka believed 2022 would be the end of Braddahhood Grindz, but in December, Timmy Chang asked if Tanaka could feed his boys again—this time for the whole offseason. Tanaka agreed.
Now in its second year, Braddahhood Grindz supports eight UH teams and around 250 athletes. The program has grown from four participating restaurants to over 20, and is sponsored by over 40 corporations.
Braddahhood Grindz is no longer just about feeding athletes. Its priorities are “first: nutrition; second: career development; third: experiences,” said Tanaka.
At events, players are given the opportunity to network with some of the state’s leading business owners, providing valuable connections for those who might not make it to the pro-level.
Athletes and coaches are also offered exciting experiences; at this week’s event, one basketball player won a free round-trip with Alaska Airlines. Tanaka believes these giveaways “help with not just player retention, but the assistant coach retention. Because assistant coaches, there’s like a 50% retention rate, because they’re not paid enough to do these experiences.”
The ultimate goal of Braddahhood Grindz is to give UH a competitive edge by sustaining athletes and improving Hawaii’s recruitment and retention rate efforts. “This represents our ability to support the heart and soul of Hawai’i, which is our UH sports teams,” Tanaka said. “When they win, Hawai’i wins, our whole community wins.”
To measure success, Tanaka has been quantifying the program’s impact on UH sports. “Every team, we’re now counting the number of players who are either staying, are being recruited, or getting placed after with full time jobs,” he said.
So far, it seems Braddahhood Grindz has successfully contributed towards fostering a culture that athletes want to be a part of. “Here, it’s really a family tradition and a family vibe and everybody really cares about each other,” said new basketball transfer Matija Svetozarevic. “Here, it’s more than basketball.”
With a five-year plan now in place, Braddahhood Grindz is continuing to expand in scope and shows no signs of slowing down. In that time, we’ll get a better idea of the program’s impact on UH sports.
But regardless of the results, Braddahhood Grindz remains a reflection of the strength of Hawaii’s community. “We’re taking Ohana to a new level for our athletes,” said Governor Josh Green.