2010 Hale Aina Awards
Our readers named the best restaurants in the Islands.
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Best Service, Gold Award
Lahaina Grill has won best Maui Restaurant, Gold, 17 years in a row. This year, it also took home another gold, for Best Service.
“We are extremely honored and can’t thank our loyal customers and supporters enough for this,” says chef/owner Jurg Munch. His philosophy on restaurant service? “I tell our staff, ‘Treat everybody like you are entertaining guests in your own home.’ And then I empower them to be able to treat people that way.”
Another key to service excellence, Munch says, is the restaurant’s low staff turnover. “We have 52 employees and, on average, each one has been here for five years or more. Our chef has been here 18 years, our bartender, 15 years, a lot of the servers have been here for 14 to 16 years. The staff is our most valuable asset—and we treat them well.”
Many of the clientele are repeat customers who are very specific about which favorite server they would like to have at their table. “They might even change their plans and come in when the person they are requesting is working. Everyone becomes part of the family.”
Munch also holds daily meetings with his staff, going over customers’ requests, and has them send birthday or anniversary cards to clients. “Also, we stay in touch. We have a newsletter with 25,000 subscribers. We go through extraordinary efforts to make sure our customers feel they are having a special experience. For many, many guests, this is a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Hawaii. They may have saved for years and years for this. There’s no margin for error.”
Little Restaurant You Love, Bronze Award
Mala Ocean Tavern is little, seating only 78 people, but more than makes up for it with an enormous menu. “I am constantly looking at other restaurant menus, and they are usually about half as long my menu,” laughs chef/owner Mark Ellman. “My kitchen always gives me the hairy eyeball because I come in with new ideas. But it’s good to keep the staff on their toes and also to provide new experiences for the customers. It’s hard to get bored at our place.”
Ellman is one of the original Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs, and formerly ran Avalon Restaurant and Bar with his wife, Judy. He remains committed to locally produced food, noting, “It’s simple. You want to keep commerce within the community. Especially with the difficult economic times, the more we keep commerce within Hawaii, the faster we’ll get out of this mess. And, of course, it’s fresher, and if you have a problem, you can say, Hey…” That is what relationships are all about.”
For example, Ellman says, “We made a commitment about a year ago to do 100-percent Maui coffee. It’s more expensive, but in the long run it pays off, in terms of quality and helping our neighbors.”
Ellman points out that the restaurant also serves brunch on the weekends, saying, “We make a mean huevos rancheros and chilaquiles” [corn tortillas with eggs, salsa, sour cream and feta].
Mala was a finalist in the Best Outdoor Dining Category. “We’re part of the old Lahaina cannery, which was a pineapple cannery in the 1930s and ’40s, up to the 1980s.” The space maintained its industrial exterior, but “95 percent of our seats have an ocean view. About 40 people can sit right on the water, watching the resident sea turtles in the ocean. The tables on the rail are the most sought out and fought over and most tipped on. I tried to get this location for 15 years. It finally paid off.”
Related Link: See the full list of Hale Aina Award winners.