When he was a cafe operator and caterer in the Bay Area, chef Shai Yerlick often used turmeric and paprika to “paint” sunsets over massive platters of hummus.
Now he works in full view of magnificent sunsets every day.
On the western side of the Big Island of Hawaii, he and his wife, Trina, are the owners and operators of the Lilikoi Inn, a bed-and-breakfast and estate farm. “Lilikoi” is the Hawaiian word for passion fruit, which grows abundantly on their property (and which guests are welcome to pick).
“I used to come here on vacation and I thought, ‘My God, I could get used to this in no time,’” Yerlick said of Hawaii’s coffee-rich Kona Coast. “We took special care to find the most temperate climate.”
The couple, who met in Israel in 1978, moved to San Francisco in 1982. They spent 25 years in the Bay Area. Shai cooked at a now-defunct restaurant in the city called Vivande Porta Via, and in 1986, after the couple relocated to Berkeley, opened a catering business in the unincorporated community of Kensington. It became popular for its signature “sunset” hummus and other Israeli specialties.
Trina, meanwhile, got a masters in education at San Francisco State University, worked briefly at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco and then spent two decades as a part-time teacher at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. She also taught briefly at Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito.
In 2007, the couple chucked it all and made the move to the Big Island.
“I love Hawaii because it’s natural, with beautiful surroundings, and I get to be outside every day,” said Trina. “The catering business was brutal; Shai would work 16 hours a day. We opened a B&B because it’s a nice way to run our own business, have our own beautiful home and meet people from all over the world.”
When the Yerlicks moved to Hawaii, they chose the temperate micro-climate in the artist village of Holualoa, in the hills above Kailua-Kona.
Shai, who grew up in Herzliya, Israel, spends much of his time preparing meals, farming and working on the property (he recently finished the inn’s fifth guest room). Trina manages bookings and teaches ESL at a local school.
Though the inn is not kosher, Shai will accommodate special diets. The couple supports the local, unaffiliated shul, Kona Beth Shalom, where Trina serves on the board, and often they make the 20-minute drive to attend events at Chabad of the Big Island.
“My Jewish connection is very deep,” Trina said. “I’ve always taught Hebrew and gone to synagogue and been active in the Jewish community, but I also believe that women should participate completely. So I read Torah at KBS on Rosh Hashanah, but I also go to Chabad because it’s part of my Jewish heritage. And they are very lovely people.”
Joining more than one community is the Yerlicks’ norm. “We believe in participating in Jewish events,” Trina said. “Even in Berkeley we attended other services.”
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Yerlicks’ Lilikoi Inn features lush gardens, an outdoor hot tub and daily breakfasts on the lanai (porch) — a far cry from the displaced persons camp in Landsberg am Lech, Germany, where Shai was born to Holocaust survivor parents.
“I love the serenity,” Shai said. “For me, every day is like the weekend. It has some peace to it. The only way I know what day it is, I look at the harbor. If the cruise liner is there, then I know it’s Wednesday. Otherwise, every day is the same.”
As a child, Shai went to boarding school in Zichron Ya’akov, a historic agricultural settlement founded in the late 19th century. Decades later, he is applying the farming fundamentals he learned to the couple’s boutique farm.
On their three acres, the Yerlicks have edible botanicals ranging from rambutan to kombocha squash, miniature apple bananas, citrus, avocado, macadamia nuts, herbs and coffee. And when Shai wants to experiment with soursop, cherimoya or dates, he sprouts seeds from fruit he has eaten. The garden is filled with the sound of the chickens that provide fresh eggs for breakfast, as well as three cats and two dogs, one of which is nicknamed “Decaf” because she was hyper as a puppy.
The menagerie also includes a pot-bellied pig named “Kosher.”
“He lives with the dogs. He sleeps with the dogs. The guests love him,” Shai said. “He may be the world’s only kosher pig.”