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Surfing for strategies

Dispatches from Maui, home of our future West Coast bureau (fingers crossed).

I’m thinking of drawing up a petition to convince our bosses to open a West Coast office of Restaurant Business magazine on the island of Maui. The surf, sand, waterfalls and weather are inconsequential, of course. This is strictly a bid to serve our readers—to bring you a firsthand view of the foodservice scene directly from America’s hottest restaurant growth market. The palm trees, picturesque sunsets and verdant mountain scenery is but a mere side effect. So, can I count on your signature?

Whatever the outcome, what’s happening on Maui, or more specifically in the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina geographic region is notable. For the second year in a row, the vacation destination tops our Restaurant Growth Index ranking of the best places to open a restaurant. It’s one of a pair of Hawaiian spots in the top five, based on data compiled and analyzed by our research partner Nielsen. And it’s indicative of the larger trend of tourism—be it beach travel, road trips or city escapes—continuing to be a key driver of restaurant growth.

What kind of industry tides and business insights might restaurateurs everywhere glean from our future Maui bureau of RB? Here is a sampling:

Restaurants fuel the economy. While residents are helping to drive restaurant growth in Hawaii, the appreciation is mutual. Pacific Business News reports that restaurants represent 14 percent of Hawaii’s employment landscape, second only to Nevada (the No. 2 state for restaurant growth by RGI score), where restaurants account for 16 percent of the workforce.

Stop spamming me. The islands are getting serious about showcasing the restaurant scene. This month, the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival—co-founded by hometown celebrity restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi—kicks off its fifth anniversary. The two-week festival, which spans multiple islands and events, just added a three-day stint on Maui. On a June episode of his “Parts Unknown” TV series, famous foodie Anthony Bourdain returned to the area (including Maui) in search of a more authentic experience. His takeaway: “Hawaii is actually much, much cooler than we know. MUCH cooler.” He continued, “The food, at every level, from casual to fine dining, by exploiting the awesomeness of that cultural mix, gets better and better and better every year.”

Eastward, ho. Maui restaurateurs also appear ready to take their show on the road. While there were no Hawaii-based chains (yet) among Restaurant Business’ latest Future 50 ranking of the fastest-growing chains (published in June 2015), a number of concepts that got their start in Maui are finding opportunity due East. Most recently, Coconut’s Fish Cafe, a fast casual with fish tacos as its signature dish, has announced ambitious plans to grow its mainland store count from four restaurants (in Arizona, Texas, California and Nevada) to at least a dozen more, currently in the works.

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