West Maui Luau, Restaurants Recovering and Ready for Spring Break

West Maui Luau, Restaurants Recovering and Ready for Spring Break

Partner Content | Photo: Maui Brewing Company

Before a hula begins, you’ll often hear the kumu hula ask the dancers, Mākaukau? (“Are you ready?”)  Maui Makaukau (“Maui Is Ready”) is the name of the new campaign the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) has choreographed to support residents and businesses tied to the island’s visitor industry, which  has not yet fully recovered since the devastating Lahaina fire of Aug. 8, 2023, but is mostly ready to go.

“It’s not just about boosting the economy; it’s about uplifting the community and their path to recovery,” HTA interim president and CEO Daniel Nahoopii said in a televised interview March 5. “By supporting local businesses, we’re ensuring the vitality and flourishing of our traditions, stories, and heritage. While Lahaina will remain fully closed to the public, other parts of Maui are opening their doors to visitors to foster stability and economic recovery for its residents.”

According to the Makaukau Maui website, West Maui in particular is “ready to return a comforting sense of stability to the lives of its residents. Reopening our doors is one step towards reducing the uncertainties that weigh on our shoulders.”

Old Lahaina Luau Credit
Maui Brewing Company

Just in time for families on spring break, Old Lahaina Luau is among those ready for business. The popular Hawaiian-focused production reopened March 12 on the northern end of Front Street in Lahaina. “The determined staff… along with numerous contractors have done an amazing job repairing damage to our lu‘au, which includes fallen trees, deterioration from ash and smoke, dehydrated landscaping and battered furniture,” the company noted on its website, adding that it remains committed “to a few nonprofit organizations who are focused on Lahaina’s rebuilding… Mahalo for your understanding, patience and support during these trying times.”

On Feb. 1, the highly regarded oceanfront restaurant Mala Ocean Tavern became the first establishment to reopen on Lahaina’s historic Front Street after the fire. Hana Hou Hospitality, its owners, have also asked for understanding from patrons, who can’t help but notice the still-empty restaurants next door or the barricades blocking access to streets of total destruction.

Maui Brewing Company
Maui Brewing Company

“We kindly request that you avoid inquiring about the Lahaina wildfires to our staff, as they have all been personally affected. Our primary focus is on extending aloha to our community, while catering to both kama‘aina (local residents) and visitors to Maui. Your understanding and respect for all is greatly appreciated,” reads a note on Mala Ocean Tavern’s website, with similar notices posted on its OpenTable page and at the restaurant’s entrance.

The hospitality group is still taking donations through its GoFundMe to help the many of its 200 staff members who lost homes in the fire. Although its Down the Hatch restaurant and Breakwall Shave Ice were destroyed in the Lahaina blaze, the company hopes to eventually reopen Duckine, which lies across the street from Mala Ocean Tavern and also miraculously stayed standing. Its Pizza Paradiso, a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern comfort food restaurant in North Kaanapali’s Honokowai Marketplace, got back to work in mid-August, at first just feeding residents and responders, and then providing a sense of normalcy and much-needed diversion with karaoke and trivia nights.

West Maui restaurants in general have  been mākaukau since the region’s official reopening last fall, since many had quickly pivoted to feed displaced residents, emergency aid workers and others involved in the recovery effort in the initial weeks after the fire. Chef Joey Macadangdang of Joey’s Kitchen in Napili Plaza served more than 1,200 free meals a day in the first 18 days after the fire, and reopened his local-style casual restaurant, albeit with limited hours, in September; his Whalers Village location resumed business before the winter holidays.

Leilani's on the Beach
Leilani's on the Beach

Chef Peter Merriman’s namesake fine-dining restaurant in Kapalua and his casual-chic Monkeypod Grill in Kaanapali’s Whalers Village also prepared more than 1,000 meals a day for fire victims and responders in the early weeks after the fire, while family-friendly Maui Brewing Company temporarily used its brand-new oceanfront location at the Outrigger Kaanapali Beach Resort as a community kitchen. All of these popular restaurants are now happily serving a mix of residents and visitors, while Merriman celebrated the opening of his new Ulu Kitchen in Kaanapali in late January.

Leilani’s on the Beach and Hula Grill in Whalers Village also initially served as relief centers and returned to normal business even before the Nov. 1 reopening, thanks to a steady stream of local diners. But it’s not too late to support the more than 800 employees of TS Restaurants and Maui Brewing Company combined affected by the fires on Maui. Still accepting donations, the companies’ TS Legacy of Aloha Fund has distributed grants to workers, including more than 300 who lost their homes or were displaced, while “remaining funds will be given to accredited nonprofits working on the ground in Maui,” according to TS Restaurants’ website.

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