comscore Mala Ocean Tavern owners, staff see blessings amid tough times | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Crave | Hawaii News

Mala Ocean Tavern owners, staff see blessings amid tough times

  • CARLA TRACY / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER Owner and General Manager Caleb Hopkins hails from Atlanta, bringing Southern charm and hospitality to Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina.

    CARLA TRACY / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

    Owner and General Manager Caleb Hopkins hails from Atlanta, bringing Southern charm and hospitality to Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina.

  • COURTESY PHOTOS BY MALA OCEAN TAVERN
                                Veteran Maui musician Joe Cano, right, and Akoni perform on separate nights at Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina.

    COURTESY PHOTOS BY MALA OCEAN TAVERN

    Veteran Maui musician Joe Cano, right, and Akoni perform on separate nights at Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina.

  • COURTESY MAUI BREWING CO.
                                Maui Brewing Co.’s Wild Hog flatbread pizza with Coconut Hiwa BBQ sauce, mozzarella, kalua pork, pineapple and green onion pairs perfectly with a beer of the same name.

    COURTESY MAUI BREWING CO.

    Maui Brewing Co.’s Wild Hog flatbread pizza with Coconut Hiwa BBQ sauce, mozzarella, kalua pork, pineapple and green onion pairs perfectly with a beer of the same name.

  • COURTESY AKAMAI COFFEE
                                Avocado toast is a morning favorite at Akamai Coffee’s three locations on Maui.

    COURTESY AKAMAI COFFEE

    Avocado toast is a morning favorite at Akamai Coffee’s three locations on Maui.

It’s Father’s Day, and things are starting to heat up. On a recent visit to Front Street in Lahaina, I saw signs of restaurant reawakenings. One such glimmer of hope was Mala Ocean Tavern.

“The tourists are gone but that hasn’t scared us; we’re here to serve the locals,” said partner Javier Barberi. “Every day, we feature live music for happy hour, and these guys are really talented. All of our musicians at Mala have decided they would play for free and just work for tips and a Mala meal.”

One such musician is the inimitable Joe Cano, who taught the late Willie K some fancy guitar licks back in the day. Another is the mono-monikered Akoni. Both perform on different days from 2 to 4 p.m.

On Tuesday, turtles were popping their heads out of the water and making a splash at the oceanfront and open-air establishment. The lamb pita, ahi bruschetta, mahimahi beer-battered fish and chips with malt vinegar aioli and Ken Wright pinot noir were all off the charts. In addition, Mala provides a late-night dining scene from 9 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays with music by DJ Eliza, aka Eliza Escano, who owns Fond restaurant in Napili with husband and chef Jojo Vasquez.

Yes, things are starting to pick up at Mala. It’s a long way from March 18, when managing partner Caleb Hopkins stood outside of the restaurant with mask and gloves on holding an “open for takeout” sign with nary a car in sight for hours. Since takeout didn’t, well, take off, Mala closed temporarily yet continued to serve a staff meal three days a week.

Chef Cord Munoz from Da Bowl provided delicious noodle dishes, and chef Jake Evans from Maui Gourmet donated his famous Aussie pies. Sysco and HFM supplied produce and food. Controller and partner Julian Bonfardin secured a PPP loan and worked to “put paychecks in people’s hands.”

The next order of business was to clean and refresh the building.

“Life threw the world a curveball, and even though we didn’t want to slow down, we were forced to,” said partner Ashley Davis. “We found the blessings in there and feel grateful to be able to do more projects in a month than we could have done in a year. The help from our staff was overwhelming. … Each one that came back to work didn’t hesitate to jump in on whatever project we had. It was teamwork I’ve never experienced before, and it is truly touching.”

The bottom line: Mala is open and happening. And, geez, it had better be happening in order to support all of the players.

“Rather than just be the birthday and anniversary spot, we want to be the place you are able to afford and frequent as often as you like,” said yet another partner, David Fincher. “We also have not stopped providing our 15% kamaaina discount to locals.”

The friendly neighborhood Mala is the sister restaurant of Down the Hatch at The Wharf Cinema Center in Lahaina town, which also rocks with live music daily. For more details, call or visit malaoceantavern.com.

THE REOPENINGS GROW

Kihei Kalama Village keeps reopening more businesses, including bars such as Dog & Duck Irish Pub and What Ales You with a “Kau Kau 2 Go” social media giveaway.

To encourage business, the shopping center is giving away $200 in gift cards every week. Customers can enter by posting a photo of their takeout or dine-in meal with the receipt to Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #KKVKauKau. Maui Food Bank will receive matching funds.

Other Kihei Kalama Village reopenings include Paia Fish Market (yes, there is one in South Maui) along with King’s Chinese BBQ (also its Wailuku location), Ohana Seafood Bar & Grill, South Shore Tiki Lounge, Kahale’s, Kihei Caffe and retail outlets such as 808 Clothing.

Also in Kihei, Maui Brewing Co. is up and running with dine-in counter service from 3:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. What is counter service, you ask? According to marketing manager Marsha Hansen, you order beers, cocktails and food with the bartender and then grab a seat. Just relax, hang out and everything will be brought to you.

Menu highlights include starters such as hot wings and panko-fried calamari with marinara or jalapeno tartar sauce, pub plates from teriyaki chicken rice bowls to locally caught fresh fish, plus burgers and flatbreads. In addition, Maui Brewing Co., in partnership with Bank of Hawaii and Central Pacific Bank, dropped off 100 gallons of its CDC-recommended hand sanitizer at the Maui Chamber of Commerce in Wailuku for businesses to pick up for free and use across the island. The 70% liquid ethyl-ISO alcohol sanitizer was distilled from its Kupu Spirits line.

“With the fluid schedules for reopening businesses from state officials, we didn’t want some businesses being unprepared for reopening,” said Maui Brewing founder Garrett Marrero.

The public can purchase the sanitizer at its Kihei and Lahaina locations.

PERK UP FOR DAD’S DAY

Does Dad prefer coffee over beer? Then perhaps you should take him to Akamai Coffee for a Father’s Day cuppa at your choice of three locations on Maui. Hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

“We’ve been in business on Maui for 13 years,” said Byron Brown, who runs the locations with wife, Kimberly Brown. “We have one in Kihei, a new one in Wailea Village, and our first one is the drive-thru in front of Home Depot in Kahului — our little guy that could.

“It’s been pretty strong and solid. Wailea’s going to be bad for a long time; we’re not expecting anything spectacular for a long while. The property managers, bellhops, people who clean are just not there to sustain us. This tourism thing is a hard one. It’s going to break a lot of our businesses, for sure. We’ll do our best to try to float through this, but the reality is, most restaurants can’t exist on what we are earning now.”

Akamai Coffee’s menu features avocado toast, waffles, yogurt and granola, ham-and-cheese croissants and more.

“We do Wailea Waffle Wednesdays, which is kind of fun. It’s $10 waffles with a small cup of coffee. People feel like they are having a good time. It’s a fantastic little spot. Our littlest Kahului guy is cranking, enough to where we can stay afloat until this thing gets through. We were in the middle of doing a build-out on another location Upcountry but had to put it on hold.”

For more details, call Akamai Coffee at 868-0003.


Veteran journalist Carla Tracy pops the cork on Maui’s dining and entertainment scene in her weekly column. Email her at carlatracy808@gmail.com.


Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature
Comments (0)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Scroll Up