To open or not to open — that is the million-dollar question.
Will Maui restaurants come roaring back Monday with sit-down dining? Or will they wait until Friday, the date originally set for dine-in service? The rules seem to change by the hour, so it’s best to call ahead to suss it out and make reservations.
Or will some restaurants be satisfied with a low growl — staying shuttered or offering takeout only until the tourists return? The latter is a tempting option, as the Liquor Control Commission now allows growlers, bottles of beer and wine and sealed cocktails to be sold with takeout and some delivery orders for added profit.
Acclaimed chef and restaurateur Beverly Gannon said she’s not ready to open Gannon’s in Wailea and Hali‘imaile General Store Upcountry — yet. She is part of the Maui Restaurant Hui with Aaron Placourakis of Tri-Star and other top restaurateurs who employ almost 5,000 people combined. They are busy crafting their own reopening guidelines to suggest to officials and helping fellow industry members figure out when and how to reopen under the “new normal.” It is not going to be easy — or profitable, apparently.
“We’re not reopening until we can figure out how to not immediately close again due to lack of enough income,” Gannon said, dropping a bomb on my fantasy dining parade I had all mapped out in my head once the restrictions were lifted. “Most members of the hui say they won’t open until July 1, Aug. 1 or possibly even Sept. 1. The tourists have to be here. Nobody is talking about coming back full steam until then.”
Gannon added that other restaurants in the hui not opening this week for sit-down service include fellow big hitters Mama’s Fish House, Tri-Star group’s Nick’s Fish Market and Sarento’s on the Beach, TS Restaurants such as Leilani’s and Hula Grill, and various Merriman’s enterprises.
“We won’t be opening on June 5, but certainly by mid- or late July, and also as plans develop for us to do so safely,” said Karen Christenson of Mama’s, as visions of Mai Tai Roa Ae libations, crisp mahimahi rolls and Mama’s fish stuffed with lobster and crab danced off into the distance.
“We’re also all talking about how to open with just our local customers,” added Gannon. “Menus are going to be smaller. We’re committed to our local community, and we’re changing our menus to adjust. We propose to go outside of our liquor licenses to have tables set up outdoors to physically distance more diners while keeping volumes up.
“Most people don’t have a clue how devastating this has been on our industry. We’re into negative bank accounts here.”
So competitors are now collaborators, and that is an upside to the crisis, with many feeling they’re in the same sinking boat. Celeb chef Mark Ellman, who owns the oceanfront Frida’s Beach House and Honu Seafood & Pizza in Lahaina, plans to wait until Maui visitors wash in.
“We will not be opening in June — not sure when,” he said. “I’m in the restaurant hui that is in the process of creating guidelines, and 75% of us do not know when we’ll be opening.”
“We’re in pretty good shape, both stores,” said Peter Longhi, whose family owns Longhi’s Wailea on Maui and Longhi’s Ko Olina on Oahu, along with the original Longhi’s building in Lahaina. But no reopening date yet, he said.
“I’ve been meeting with Bev and Aaron, and then we spoke with Mike Jokovich of Andaz and others. The only hui person who said he was opening right away was Giovanni Cappelli of Bistro Casanova. Until we get more flights in, it doesn’t make sense to open, and the hotels aren’t opening until July 1 — that is, if the flights come back.”
Longhi noted that the numbers just don’t add up when state rules say restaurants can open at only 50% capacity or less.
“The numbers involved in a Kaanapali or a Wailea restaurant are staggering. You pay, say, $50,000 in rent and $12,000 in electric, and that’s before payroll, product and other expenses. And then you have 30 people show up for dinner? It doesn’t work. Once the hotels open, word has it some may be opening only one outlet each, too, at least in the initial stages.”
SOCIAL DISTANCE DINING
Polli’s and Casanova in Makawao, which rely heavily on local customers, invite you in to sit down and enjoy a meal and beverages starting this week. The two longtime eateries and Manoli’s Pizza and Akamai Coffee in Wailea and Marco’s Grill & Deli and Poi by the Pound in Kahului are among the many smaller, independent restaurants taking a gamble.
“Starting this week, we’ll serve sit-down breakfast, lunch and dinner from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily,” said Marco’s owner, Sandy Szymanski. “We have altered our hours and changed our menu.”
Marco’s remained open for takeout, as 50% of its customers are local and have continued to patronize the eatery at the corner of Hana Highway. and Dairy Road.
“Honestly, I just refuse to close,” said Szymanski. “I’m here every day, and I’m going to go down with the ship. When this first happened, it was just me and the chef on staff. Now Marco’s is doing better. We do lunch delivery Monday through Friday to Wailuku and Kahului with a $50 minimum order. It’s free delivery through June. Ask for our mimosa specials with a side of orange juice and a bottle of Champagne.” Visit Marco’s on Facebook for limited updated menu.
Starting this week, 5 Palms will be a sit-down oasis daily at Mana Kai Resort in Kihei. Overlooking Keawakapu Beach, you can enjoy breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., happy hour from 3 to 8 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Owner Simon Vojdani has operated 90 restaurants in his lifetime, and he knows that 5 Palms is expansive enough to place tables comfortably apart and that veteran General Manager Moki Chong Kee will be mindful to keep everyone safe.
“We’re opening up with a lower price point,” Chong Kee said.“It’s going to be affordable, it’s oceanfront and we’ve got kamaaina discounts. People gotta get out and have a drink and watch the sunset and have some good food. We’ll follow all the guidelines.” Call 879-2607.
Taverna Maui in Kapalua has all the guidelines in place to open this week for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., happy hour from 2:30 to 5 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
“We are somewhat fortunate to have such a large dining facility that we can easily accommodate diners in a social-distancing scenario,” says Managing Partner Chris Kaiwi. “We have enough space to create 6-foot barriers between tables, and it’s open-air, which is a big plus. We’ve also been doing takeout and continue to do our philanthropy with complimentary weekly meals to kupuna and Kaiser Permanente health care workers.”
Signature dishes include chef Roger Stettler’s lasagna, Chianti-braised short ribs and house-made pastas. Reservations are highly recommended. Call 667-2426.
THIS JUST IN …
Late last week came news that Tommy Bahama is reopening Friday at the Shops at Wailea for takeout and curbside pickup, offered 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. The new takeout menu features favorites like coconut shrimp, blackened mahi fish tacos, parmesan-crusted Sanibel chicken and Kona coffee-crusted prime rib. Order individually or as meal packages that come with entree, salad, warm bread and Tommy Bahama’s signature key lime pie. Call 875-9983.
Also late-breaking: Maui’s own Willie K, who died May 18 after a long battle with lung cancer, will be remembered in a special daylong broadcast tribute today that begins at noon on KGMB and moves to KHNL from 3 to 8 p.m. Highlights include the beloved singer and musician’s many appearances at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, his 2005 “Hot Hawaiian Nights” performance at the old Hapa’s in Kihei, and “Emme’s Island Moments: Life on Stage Four.” Check TV schedules for shows and times.