Monica Cortez

The snack shack known as the Big Kahuna Hut has grown to offer other goods and services with a local touch.

The Hut is now a hub for East Aldine community gatherings, coffee klatches, haircuts and beauty treatments. Not to mention retail shopping “therapy,” too.

And although the Hut is not on a major boulevard, the spot has become a tourist attraction for worldwide travelers after they arrive at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Monica Cortez, Hub founder and onsite proprietor of Café Guadalupe, said the location especially attracts out-of-towners seeking a unique, down-to-earth “Houston” experience.

“They’re coming from Mexico, they’re coming from Hawaii, they’re coming from Australia,” she said.

Social media is playing a big part in new flow of customers, Cortez explained.

“They arrive at the airport, and they look up reviews (on Google). And even though they’re international, they want to support local,” Cortez said.

The dynamic Cortez has a renewed enthusiasm for promoting East Aldine after Kahuna Hut owner Kevin Macias explained his family’s plan to expand the building to generate more business.

As a result, “I’m not here just to serve coffee, I’m here to serve the community,” she said.

By attaching two empty rail cars to the property, the Macias family created room for business that go far beyond things to eat and drink.

Inspired Cutz Barber and Beauty Salon has opened, featuring Franky “The Barber” Hernandez and his talented daughter, Alijah, a local “celebrity” known for her underage hair-cutting skills. She’s 12 and has been featured on local TV shows for her craft.

Beatrice Mallard

On the other side of the building, the Created for More jewelry and accessories store and Beatrice’s Resale Boutique provide shopping opportunities at ridiculously reasonable prices.

Through her active membership in the Power of Love Church, Cortez recruited the boutique and barber shop owners. They credit the success of their businesses at the mini-mall to their faith and friendship.

“When (Macias) shared his vision for expanding the business, I decided I’m in it to be all the way in,” Cortez said. “However I could support him, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”

“The Barber” and daughter Alijah work at Inspired Cutz, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. He is also joined at the shop by his wife, Shayann Hernandez, who works on women’s hairstyles.

The couple, 30, has three other children, including daughters Cariah and Ava and son, Franky Jr., who is 2.

Hernandez, a native of East Aldine and graduate of MacArthur High School, was recruited by Cortez, his friend through the church, after his other barbershop closed.

“I love what I do so much, this is something I would do for free, but I have a family to feed,” Hernandez joked.

But there is much more to his story.

“We give back to this community because I grew up here,” Hernandez said. “But, for a while, I was living that street life. And, that life wasn’t really working out for me. It wasn’t until I turned my life around and started earning honest money that things really began to work out for me,”

“So, I want to be here and become that example for other people in the community and inspire them. It means a lot to me,” he added.

Jessica Martinez

Jessica Martinez, the proprietor of Created for More, sells jewelry, purses, and accessories in her brightly decorated boutique. The items range from Astros-themed or “baseball Mom” earrings to silver jewelry.

Martinez, who also knew Cortez from the church, staged occasional “pop up” shops in Café Guadalupe before the building expanded.

“Everyone who comes in here says, ‘This is a really cool spot,’ ” Martinez said. “I believe there is a lot of potential here.”

Her little boutique is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Next to the jewelry store is Beatrice’s Resale shop, which is run by her mother, Beatrice Mallard. She loves clothes and her customers.

After growing up very poor in the Denver Harbor neighborhood, Mallard explained, she married at a very young age to a man from Mexico and moved away. After he turned abusive, she had just enough money to return to Houston by bus.

“Now, I find myself listening to my customers’ stories, and offering them advice,” Mallard said, with a rueful smile. “I guess you could say I really do provide retail ‘therapy.’ ”

Her store, like her daughter’s, is open 10 a. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. (They frequently fill in for each other in their respective shops.)

Meanwhile, the Kahuna Hut kitchen, which is being refurbished, will resume offering a variety of freshly made food, ranging from hamburgers and hot dogs to refreshing Mexican-style summer drinks filled with fruit.

Cortez recently started hosting weekly events for other East Aldine entrepreneurs, asking area business owners to share their experiences with the community.

Franky Hernandez and Aliha

The “Café Con C.E.O.” series has drawn large crowds.

“There’s a lot of experience, and a lot of potential here in this community,” Cortez said, “If you have a voice, people need to hear what you have to say.”

Big Kahuna Hut
11902 Aldine Westfield Rd., Houston 77093

— by Anne Marie Kilday