Uncertain Future for Maui Restaurants


The recent fires that swept through Maui left destruction in their wake, impacting both homes and businesses. Amid the aftermath, the future of numerous restaurants hangs in the balance, leaving the island’s once-thriving culinary industry facing an uncertain path forward.

A Swift Escape:

As the flames engulfed Maui on August 8, Qiana Di Bari and her family were forced to evacuate. A puff of smoke near their home signaled danger, prompting them to flee with essential belongings. The devastation struck close to home as the fire claimed Sale Pepe Pizzeria e Cucina, the Italian restaurant owned by Qiana Di Bari and her husband.

A Tale of Survival and Loss:

While Di Bari’s home miraculously survived, her restaurant did not. The raging fire, the deadliest in over a century in the United States, razed structures and disrupted lives. Amidst the tragedy, Lahaina, a historic area and tourist hotspot, suffered immense damage, affecting numerous restaurants that played a significant role in the island’s economy.  

Impact on the Culinary Landscape:

The fires’ aftermath revealed the vulnerability of Maui culinary scene. Lahaina’s restaurants constituted a substantial part of the local economy, with food preparation and provider using almost 17% of the populace withinside the Kahului metropolitan area, which incorporates Lahaina.  Restaurants are essential additives of the tourism zone, chargeable for 75% of private-zone jobs at the island.

An Industry in Peril:

The aftermath of the fires has plunged the industry into turmoil. The blazes both razed eating places to the floor or left their destiny striking in uncertainty. Sheryl Matsuoka, Executive Director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, emphasized the profound impact on businesses, their supporting entities, and the industry at large.  

A Journey to Recovery:

Restaurant owners grapple with the devastation, simultaneously working to assist their employees and determine the path to rebuilding. The road to recovery appears daunting, as restaurateurs face not only the loss of physical structures but also the challenge of restoring their businesses to their former vitality.  

Gone in Ash:

Javier Barberi, owner of Down the Hatch and part of the Hana Hou Hospitality group, witnessed the destruction firsthand. Arriving at his restaurant’s location, he was met not by the familiar establishment but by a vast pile of ash. The fire had obliterated his business, and others shared similar fates.

Uncertain Survival:

While some restaurants physically endured, their survival hangs in the balance. Monica Loui, owner of Kula Sandalwoods Inn & Cafe, fought valiantly to save her family’s decades-old establishment. The fire spared the restaurant itself, but the family’s historic home was consumed by the flames. The future remains uncertain, but the determination to rebuild persists.

Challenges Amidst Survival:

While some businesses remain standing, they are far from operational. The fires may have spared their structures, but challenges like unsafe water and damaged infrastructure hinder their revival efforts. Some restaurant owners, like Caleb Hopkins of Māla Ocean Tavern and Duckine, are unable to access their establishments due to safety concerns.

Community Support and Resilience:

Amid the uncertainty, a feel of network prevails. Fundraising campaigns have been launched to support restaurants and their staff. While the journey to recovery is arduous, the determination to rebuild and support those affected is evident.

An Exacerbated Housing Crisis:

The fires worsened Maui’s existing housing crisis, impacting not only residents but also hospitality industry employees. Affordable housing was already a challenge, and the fires added to the struggle. Many restaurant workers lost homes and belongings, with some seeking refuge in their employers’ houses.

The Path Forward:

Despite the challenges, the restaurant community remains steadfast in its determination to persevere. While the road to recovery may be long, the resolve to rebuild, support staff, and reclaim Maui’s culinary vibrancy prevails. Through unity and resilience, Maui restaurants aim to emerge stronger from the ashes of devastation.