LAYTON -- The first time he experienced winter in Utah, Vern Thompson was glued to the window of his house. Not to watch the snow falling, but to see what his neighbors did.
"I didn't know what to do," he said. "They were shoveling their driveway and the sidewalks, so I figured I should too."
Having recently moved to Layton from Hawaii, Thompson and his family had more to adjust to than just the snow. One immediate problem was finding some familiar food. With the closest Hawaiian BBQ restaurants in Bountiful and Salt Lake City, the Thompsons spent at least two nights a week leaving Layton.
"When you grow up with something, you have to have it," Thompson said.
Now, they just go to their own restaurant.
Vern and his wife, Loui Toomalatai-Thompson, opened Big Sai's Hawaiian BBQ, at 2672 North Hill Field Road, about two months ago. The restaurant, sitting between Northridge High School and Hill Air Force Base, has already produced enough regulars that Loui said they could shout people's names out when they walk through the door.
"This is the kind of place we wanted," Loui said. "It's an extension from my house. In our culture, it's all about sharing what you have."
The Thompsons moved to Layton two winters ago after Loui was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor is about the size of a BB and not life-threatening, although it causes symptoms that Loui has to deal with every day. Loui, who counts the time by the number of winters her family has survived, said she is now living off medication and wanted to be closer to family for moral support.
"Now my kids have 31 cousins to play with," Loui said.
The Thompsons have three daughters -- Talia, 12, Alosina, 11, and Ema, 7 -- and one son. Nine-year-old Isaia, now measuring in at an even 5 feet and weighing 125 pounds, was the inspiration behind the name of the restaurant. Born two weeks early, Isaia weighed 11 pounds, 4.5 ounces and measured 23 inches.
The big baby was such a novelty in Laie that local high school football coaches brought gifts to the Thompsons and encouraged the parents to send the future football player to their high school when it is time for him to play.
The Thompsons want to not only be a part of the community here, but bring some of the Hawaiian culture to Utah.
The first step, deciding the menu for Big Sai's, was easy.
"These are the things my kids like to eat," Loui said. "We plan on expanding the menu, we just didn't know how much to do at first."
When designing Big Sai's T-shirts, the Thompsons made sure to have "Broke da mouf" on the back. That is a saying in Hawaii that the locals use for food so good that it breaks your mouth apart.
"We want to share the aloha spirit and culture with the people here," Vern said. "We want to be a part of this wonderful community."