Kawit! brings Filipino food to New Haven with a ghost kitchen concept

Photo of Leeanne Griffin

New Haven has long been a city that celebrates multicultural cuisine, and Kevin McGuire and Seth Wallace are happy to add one more entry into the exciting food scene. On May 3, they’ll debut Kawit!, a Filipino concept, as a ghost kitchen offering delivery to the Elm City and surrounding towns.

“It feels really good to add one more element of diversity to the landscape here,” McGuire said. “It almost feels like an important cultural mission for me.”

Kawit!, named for the city in the Philippines where McGuire’s family lives, started as a pop-up in 2019. McGuire, a chef who’s worked for Caseus and its successor, Olmo, introduced his food at special events throughout the city, popping up at Ordinary and High George at The Blake Hotel and joining forces with Sherkaan Indian Street Food for a “Filipindian feast.”

Kawit! joins just a handful of spots for Filipino fare in Connecticut, including Zul Cafe in Norwalk and Kayumangi in Wallingford, a specialty Filipino grocery store with prepared meals. The food incorporates indigenous tropical ingredients with influences from Spain and China. Items like lumpia (fried spring rolls filled with pork and vegetables) and pancit (noodle dishes), for example, bear resemblance to Chinese cuisine.

“It's a fusion of different colonial influences of the past,” McGuire said.

McGuire said his take on the food has a similar fusion approach. His mother is Filipino and his father is white, so his take on barbecue is more American, with Filipino influences. Kawit!’s meat dishes, including smoked adobo-rubbed ribs and chicken, are “easily approachable vehicles for the Filipino flavors I’ve been using,” he said.

The ribs and chicken are topped with spicy banana and coconut sauce and served with atchara (sweet pickled vegetables). Sides include bibingka (gluten-free rice and coconut-based bread) and garlic fried rice.

He’s also focused on making his food “as accessible as possible,” he said, modifying several dishes to be vegan without sacrificing flavor. Vegan “chicharrons” are crafted with tapioca and mushrooms; sawsawan roasted eggplant is prepared with red onion, scallion and cilantro; and pancit bihon features cornstarch noodles sauteed with onion, carrots, green beans and soy sauce.

Kawit! will start off as a ghost kitchen, and McGuire and his team will work out of a kitchen space on Olive Street, preparing orders for GrubHub delivery drivers. Ghost kitchens, which offer takeout and/or delivery-only meals without seating or indoor service, became increasingly popular across the country over the past year as COVID-19 disrupted normal restaurant operations.

For McGuire, the ghost kitchen model worked well for him, saving money on startup costs. He’s renting the space for two nights a week, Monday and Tuesday, to start. In time, he expects to add traditional takeout pickup, and he would eventually like to open a full restaurant storefront.

“It’s just a way to eliminate a lot of that overhead that I would with a traditional restaurant setup,” he said. “I was able to self-fund this instead of taking out [thousands] in loans.”

McGuire also credits his “valuable, enriching” experience with the Food Business Accelerator, a partnership between CitySeed and Collab, for connecting him with like-minded food entrepreneurs and providing access to key resources and tools to help build his concept.

“It'll be my first time working for myself,” he said. “It feels really good to be the one in charge and steering the ship.”

Kawit! will be available on GrubHub Monday and Tuesday nights from 4 to 9 p.m., or until sellout. The delivery radius serves the city of New Haven and beyond, from Milford to North Branford and parts of North Haven and Hamden, McGuire said. For more information and a link to the GrubHub menu, visit kawitfood.com.