All through its centuries-long historical past, Lahaina has been many issues to many individuals: a royal residence, a missionary put up, a hard-partying harbor city, a vacationer entice. For some, it was merely residence.
The fireplace that diminished the historic city to ash on August 8, 2023 was unsparing. It took the lives and livelihoods of so a lot of our neighborhood members. Round 50 eating places went up in smoke that day. As the previous eating editor for Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi journal, I can identify 30 with out even making an attempt. It’s an unfathomable loss for the trade — one which feels notably merciless after everybody labored so arduous to outlive the pandemic.
For a lot of, it’s nonetheless too early to speak about rebuilding. Even aside from the grief and mourning that also hangs within the air, on a really sensible and tangible stage, the Environmental Safety Company estimates it would take months simply to clear away the literal poisonous particles. Earlier than the hearth, Lahaina’s world-famous Entrance Avenue was little greater than a patchwork of picket shacks held collectively by layers of paint, cooking grease, crusty sea salt, banana sap, and gossip. Some eating places will definitely reopen in new areas, however that distinctive patina that made the place so compelling is gone.
And a few eating places won’t ever reopen, together with Nagasako Okazuya Deli, the oldest and arguably most beloved eatery in Lahaina. For 120-plus years, the Nagasako household served the West Maui neighborhood, and it began with Mitsuzo Nagasako, who opened a sweet retailer on the nook of Entrance Avenue and Lahainaluna Highway within the early 1900s. With every successive technology the enterprise advanced — right into a grocery store, then a grocery, and eventually an okazuya, or deli. Lahainaluna boarding college students crowded the okazuya counter earlier than college every day to refill on the deli’s particular Spam musubi: meat within the center, fried in teriyaki sauce. Households stopped by earlier than and after the seashore for shoyu rooster and breaded teriyaki steak. Per week after the hearth, the Nagasakos introduced by a heartfelt put up that includes images of all six generations of the household that they might not reopen. This is likely one of the many threads to Lahaina’s previous that has now been misplaced.
The Pioneer Inn was Lahaina’s first lodge, in-built 1901. Over time it housed a saloon, stage, and movie show. Most lately it was residence to Papa‘aina, chef Lee Anne Wong’s wharf-side restaurant. Initially from New York, Wong got here to Maui by means of Honolulu. She realized to cook dinner Hawai‘i-style delicacies at Koko Head Café, her brunch spot in Honolulu’s Kaimukī, and perfected it at Papa‘aina, the place she served breakfast ramen and mapo tofu loco mocos. A couple of years in the past, Wong hosted a dumpling workshop within the Inn’s courtyard, drawing classes from her cookbook, Dumplings All Day Wong. Along with her son on her hip, she taught us to roll and pinch our dough into crescents and dip them into boiling broth, a lot as native cooks had for the previous 100-plus years. Whether or not or not Papa‘aina will ever reopen is unknown — proper now, Wong is specializing in reduction efforts for the 1000’s of displaced individuals.
Not way back, at Kimo’s Maui, I had lunch with Paris-born artist Man Buffet, who had immortalized the Entrance Avenue restaurant in a portray that captures the euphoria of eating there on the waterfront. When Rob Thibaut and Sandy Saxten opened Kimo’s in 1977, it was the start of their T S Eating places empire, which now consists of Dukes Waikīkī, Hula Grill, and Leilani’s on the Seashore, amongst others. A visit to Maui was hardly full with out tackling a mammoth slice of Hula Pie at sundown whereas surfers caught the final ankle biters of the day at Breakwall. The house owners have already pledged to rebuild their landmark restaurant.
Two doorways down from Kimo’s, passersby may peek by a porthole into the Lahaina Yacht Membership. Lahaina’s second-oldest restaurant was invite-only — however extra within the piratical than prissy sense. Earlier than transpacific sailor Floyd Christenson opened the beloved Mama’s Fish Home in Kū‘au, he and some different outdated salts based the mariner’s membership in 1965. They remodeled a Entrance Avenue laundry right into a clubhouse and contracted Hawaiian artist Sam Ka‘ai to design the membership’s pennant, or burgee: a white whale on pink backing. Colourful burgees from yacht golf equipment worldwide hung over the open-air eating room, the place commodores traded navigational suggestions and tossed again pictures of Outdated Lahaina Rum. If you happen to rang the ship’s bell, you have been shopping for the entire restaurant a spherical.
Throughout Honoapi‘ilani Freeway, the Sly Mongoose boasted no view in any way — as a substitute, Maui’s oldest dive bar marketed air-conditioning. Since 1977, “the Goose” had lured patrons indoors with its jukebox, goldfish crackers, and glad hour that includes $2 Jager Spice and “free beer tomorrow.”
These are solely a fraction of the eating places misplaced; total chapters could possibly be written about Lahaina Grill, Pacific’o, Feast at Lele, and Fleetwood’s on Entrance Avenue, the place the Mad Bagpiper serenaded the setting solar on the rooftop each night time. Eating places weren’t the one locations to seek out sustenance in Lahaina, both. There have been meals vans, farmer’s markets, and even temples that served specialty snacks. Throughout Chinese language New 12 months, the Wo Hing museum provided crispy gau gee samples and moon desserts imported from Hong Kong. Throughout the summer season Obon competition, Lahaina Hongwanji and Jodo Mission hosted nighttime dances with chow enjoyable cubicles. The outside kitchen at Jodo Mission neglected the ‘Au‘au Channel and the steam from the boiling noodles wafted out to sea together with lanterns to recollect the lifeless.
Lahaina old-timers will bear in mind the little mango stand throughout from 505 Entrance Avenue. For years a neighborhood girl offered pickled mango there in little plastic sacks. Youngsters biked over after baseball video games for baggage of mango and sodas. In the summertime, Lahaina’s mango timber have been laden with the orbs of fruit. And earlier than there have been mangos, there have been ‘ulu, or breadfruit, groves. Lahaina’s historical identify, Malu ‘Ulu O Lele, refers back to the ‘ulu timber that after grew so thick you possibly can stroll for miles beneath their shade. Maybe these timber will develop once more.
As monumental as this catastrophe was, the neighborhood’s response was even larger. The day after the hearth, Maui’s cooks sprang into motion. The workforce of the grassroots challenge Chef Hui mobilized on the UHMC Culinary Arts campus to do what they do greatest: feed and nourish their neighborhood. Within the first six days, they served over 50,000 scorching meals to survivors of the hearth. Regardless of shedding her Maui restaurant, Wong has been on the campus day-after-day plating up bentos, together with Isaac Bancaco, who misplaced each his residence and his office at Pacific’o. Jojo Vasquez misplaced his residence, too, and was compelled to quickly shut Fond, his restaurant in Nāpili. That didn’t cease him from messaging his Chef Hui colleagues: “Tag me in coach, I keep prepared.” Joey Macadangdang turned his restaurant, Joey’s Kitchen in Nāpili, into an emergency shelter the night time of the hearth and has been cooking for his displaced neighbors day-after-day since.
Hawai‘i’s restaurant house owners and employees are a tight-knit crew, battle-tested and resilient. Lengthy earlier than this hearth stretched them skinny, Maui’s restaurateurs, cooks, and servers have been at all times on the island’s innumerable charity occasions with knives and turbines prepared. I had typically puzzled how they stored their doorways open whereas donating meals and employees to all these causes. Now could be our likelihood to repay them for his or her a long time of nourishment and for serving to to knit collectively Lahaina’s material — layers of historical past laid down by Native Hawaiians, whalers, missionaries, plantation laborers, locals, transplants, and vacationers to create the Lahaina during which we lived, liked, and dined.
Shannon Wianecki is a Hawai‘i-based author and editor who makes a speciality of pure historical past, tradition, and journey.