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Chef Mavro wins third AAA Five Diamond award


Chef George Mavrothalassitis’ eponymous Chef Mavro restaurant has been notified of its third consecutive AAA Five Diamond win and will be presented with the award in January.

He credits his "energetic" staff, the average age of which is in its 30s when he is removed from the equation, he chuckled.

"I’m very proud to have the Five Diamond Award because this is my restaurant, (financed with) my money. I don’t have a partner," nor has he the backing of a huge hotel or corporation, as do most Five Diamond-winning restaurants, he said.

Comparatively, famed chef Thomas Keller spent $25 million to build Per Se in New York City, Mavro noted, and he laughed when asked to compare his build-out cost with Keller’s. Mavro didn’t divulge his budget, but it was clearly significantly less, given the vigor of Mavro’s laughter.

Other Hawaii AAA Diamond winners in the restaurant and lodging industries are also being notified, and "TheBuzz" has it on good but unquotable authority that La Mer at Halekulani will celebrate its 21st AAA Five Diamond award.

Mavrothalassitis was at the helm of La Mer when it got its first in 1990.

"When they hired me (in 1988), my mission was to get the (award)," he said.

AAA will release its Diamond winning hotel and lodging lists for 2011 in January.

Don Ho’s Island Grill sold

After previous threats to do so proved fruitless, Fred Livingston has officially retired from the restaurant business with the sale of Don Ho’s Island Grill to Phillip Johnson.

Well, he’s almost out of it, as he has a management contract with the restaurant pending Johnson’s receipt of a liquor license. "Then I’ll be free," Livingston chuckled.

Well, he still owns Windward Business Center in Kaneohe.

Johnson pledged to "keep the staff, which was a major concern of mine," Livingston said.

Livingston once had 350 employees across seven restaurants and his real estate company. He now has two. His storied restaurant empire included Matteo’s Trattoria, Crouching Lion Inn and Tahitian Lanai.

Johnson "loved the concept of Don Ho’s and this whole feel behind it, and I just kind of looked at the potential of everything," he said. "I’m really excited about it. Everyone here’s excited for change, and you know, there’s unlimited potential down here with this venue."

Relocating to Oahu, Johnson "lived on Maui for nine years" and "hung out with" restaurateurs including Bob Longhi and Aaron Placourakis "and got a feel for the restaurant industry," he said. Johnson plans to get training in every position in the restaurant.

The deal’s value was not disclosed, but it was an assignment of lease transaction, Johnson said. The waterfront eatery’s lease was to expire at the end of next year, "and I will be extending to 2012," said Johnson, who took on General Manager Mike Maielua as a partner in the parent company, PJJ Restaurant LLC.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Advertiser. Reach her by e-mail at


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