I was ecstatic at being able to share news of the reopening of Matteo’s Osteria in Wailea. Chef-owner Matteo Mistura is a native Italian who excels at the rustic cuisine of the Cinque Terre region. His wines-by-the-glass list offers perfect pairings, and I was as excited as a schoolgirl going to prom to soon be raising a glass and diving into his fresh salads and dreamy pastas.
Then Gov. David Ige extended the trans-Pacific quarantine into July, and Mistura, like many others, decided to wait it out until the tourists return. What to do? Delete paragraphs and photos and start over again — the new normal.
“We are planning to remain closed until further notice, watching how tourism unfolds and hopeful to reopen when there are more stable conditions,” emailed his apologetic cousin and business manager, Carlotta Germi, as I was on deadline.
Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia also threw me into a tizzy. I was hoping to immerse myself ASAP in a Bloody Maria, huevos rancheros and the north shore scene after a swim at Baldwin Beach.
“Charley’s will remain closed during this initial round of reopenings,” said owner Jonathan Hermann. “We will continue to analyze employee safety, community safety and our ability to effectively serve the public while maintaining mandated restrictions. These items, along with our guests’ willingness to come out and the timeline as set by the virus, will dictate our return.”
Acclaimed chef and businessman Peter Merriman has 10 top restaurants on the Big Island, Maui, Oahu and Kauai and employs roughly 1,100 people. On Maui he has Merriman’s Kapalua along with Monkeypod Kaanapali and Monkeypod Wailea, and he’s a minority partner in Hula Grill Kaanapali.
“We are not opening at this time,” said Merriman, a founding member of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement. “We are waiting for the demand to be great enough to support our restaurants. Until the visitor industry is closer to 50%, we think large-format restaurants like ours will have challenges breaking even.”
Yes, large-format and special-occasion restaurants are especially hard-hit. It’s going to seem like eons before we can sink our teeth into crisp Shanghai spring rolls and the Cake Walk trio of Pacific lobster, rock crab and diver scallop and be pampered with exceptional service and accoutrements at Lahaina Grill.
“As you can imagine this has been devastating to our business and to our ohana at Lahaina Grill, along with so many restaurants here in Hawaii and around the world,” said owner Jurg Munch. “We do not have a date for reopening at this time. We are hoping that with the safe return of visitors to Maui that we will be able to open again in the fall or winter of this year.”
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
The Cafe O’Lei family of restaurants has reopened three of its four popular outlets for sit-down dining.
“It has been a challenge, to say the least, but we keep our hopes up and stay positive that even with the new norm we will try our best to bring our slice-of-life back in our paradise,” said owner Dana Pastula.
Cafe O’Lei Kihei (891-1368) and its sister restaurant Cafe O’Lei at the Dunes at Maui Lani in Kahului (877-0073) are open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
“Masa San Sugimoto, our sushi chef, is making fresh rolls so you can get your fix,” she said. “All the regular menu favorites are back, from lettuce wraps to crab clubs to blackened mahimahi plates, and we’re featuring some expensive stuff, like prime rib ($28.95) three days a week, Wednesdays to Fridays, and Asian-braised short ribs on Saturdays and Sundays only ($30.95).”
The Dunes has switched up its banquet room to sit-down dining, so along with the large dining room and the expansive lanai, you can wave at all your friends while keeping a physical distance.
“It’s geared toward local people, and they’re antsy to go out — they are tired of to-gos. We miss our regulars, too,” she added.
Pastula also owns and operates two restaurants at the Maui Coast Hotel in Kihei, but only one is open.
“Right now National Guard members are staying there. Airline pilots and staff are quarantined there between flights, and they order in from us,” said Pastula. “I’m keeping ‘Ami ‘Ami closed until later. Kamaole Poolside Cafe (875-8522) is a better fit for the situation because it’s outside, easily accessible and people love the happy hour. “
The cafe is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. But will there be live music as before?
“Not yet. I’m working on it,” she said. “The whole thing about it is expense: Less people are coming in, yet the same people are in the kitchen. It’s really hard to figure out what is your profit margin. Will you have five diners or 50? We are at half capacity, at best. Will musicians take half their pay? All of us restaurateurs have the same sentiments. But since Cafe O’Lei mainly caters to locals, we feel we have to be open. Yet, how are we going to make it?”
Pastula and her husband, Mike Pastula, are certainly giving it the old college try. In addition, since banquets cannot be booked at this time, Cafe O’Lei has a food truck and can bring the party to you, and all of its outlets offer family meals to go such as fish and chips or linguine with chicken for four to six people ($48.95). For more details, visit cafeoleirestaurants.com.
HERE AND THERE
Bistro Casanova in Kahului is open for sit-down service Mondays through Saturdays for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. “We are offering a 20% kamaaina discount on food for the month of June,” said owner Giovanni Steven Cappelli.
Known as the “Cheers” of Maui, Koho’s Grill & Bar in the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center is up and running for sit-down service from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. It’s a great place to chill after shopping at Macy’s. The fajitas and burgers are popular.
Teddy’s Bigger Burgers in the Lahaina Gateway mall is one of those anomalies that has steadfastly remained open for takeout and is doing well with sit-down, too.
“We never closed, which I think kind of helps, because we don’t have to build that momentum up,” said owner Henry Telles. “It hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure. Figure it’s a better option than to cut everyone loose and then try and get them back. We’ve been trying to keep cash flow going even though we’re taking it on our chin. We were down to 25% of sales, and it was getting pretty dark and then we saw the light again.”
Now Teddy’s is holding the price of $1 for small fries until June 30. You can also order curbside pickup from the new app. The most popular burgers are the Bacon Me Crazy with double bacon, double cheese and grilled onions, and the Lahaina Style with pineapple, jalapenos, Swiss cheese and bacon.
“It’s sweet and spicy, just like our crew,” said Telles. “We went away from straw dispensers and takeout ketchups and stuff like that and instead hand you utensils in lieu of self-serve. If you gotta sink or swim, I want to swim.”
Family packs just launched with burgers, kids entrees and fries; or with chicken tenders and fries for the whole ohana for $30. To order, call 661-9111 or visit teddysbiggerburgers.com.
TO MARKET, TO MARKET …
Maui Sunday Market reopens today from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Kahului Shopping Center. Presented by Maui Food Technology Center, admission is free, but there will be no dining tent, no live entertainment (unless there is a solo artist) and no bingo or line dancing. Still, it’s an opportunity to support local vendors and buy takeout food and arts and crafts.
A new Saturday Farmers Market has debuted in Makawao at the Oskie Rice Arena on Olinda Road. Hours are noon to 4 p.m., and highlights are Stacey’s Garden hummus pestos, tapiocas and vinaigrettes along with a full selection of Pono Pies by Maui Breadfruit Co. Organized by the Wednesday Farmers Market crew in Kula, this is a no-contact enterprise with a drive-thru system. There may not be a rodeo coming this Fourth of July weekend, but the location will appeal to those who want to get out into the country.