“When I was 25,” Gary said, “I read an article in Newsweek that people in Hawai‘i live the longest.”
So in the early 1980s, the young Ohio native moved to the Aloha State, settling first on O‘ahu. But it didn’t take Gary long to realize Maui is nō ka ‘oi, and in 1990, with his mother, Donna, and brothers Rick and Ron, he opened The Mā‘alaea Waterfront Restaurant.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 15 working as a busboy at a Holiday Inn in Troy, Ohio,” the soft-spoken Gary said, “I love it. Every day is different.”
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary under the Smiths’ ownership, the Waterfront is the recipient of the most prestigious awards in food and wine categories year after year.
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary under the Smith’s ownership, the Waterfront is the recipient of the most prestigious awards in food and wine categories year after year. Its menu is a gourmet’s dream, featuring the freshest local fish prepared in a mouth-watering array of styles, succulent rack of lamb, scrumptious sea scallops, exotic wild game and steaks to satisfy the most particular of meat lovers, and delicious vegetarian entrées are also available.
The wine list is Gary’s passion. “It’s my baby,” he said.
The Waterfront’s list is the most extensive imaginable, ranging from superb by-the-glass selections to the rarest bottles of California and international offerings.
“We waited six years to get three bottles of Screaming Eagle from its Napa winery,” Gary said, as he carefully displayed a bottle of this exquisitely expensive wine stored lovingly in the restaurant’s inner sanctum wine cellar. And the reverent look on his face as he held it up? Priceless!
The restaurant’s list of over 280 wines, 47 vodkas, 30 scotches, 10 bourbons, 10 rums and eight gins is dazzling.
What makes a restaurant exceptional? Without question, the Waterfront’s food is delicious, the service is outstanding and its harbor-side location is paradise eye-candy. Those are a few of the ingredients—and why locals and visitors frequent the Waterfront regularly.
“They’re consistently good,” said Jeanne McJannet, owner/manager of Mā‘alaea Bay Realty and Rentals, and a 31-year Maui resident. “Even in this economy, I still go there two or three times a month and for sure anytime out-of-town guests or family visit.”
McJannet recently took her grand-niece and husband to the Waterfront for dinner.
“When they landed on Maui and I told them we’d be going there they were ecstatic. They said they’d been dreaming about it the whole plane ride over!”
McJannet said visitor-clients of hers always tell her the Waterfront is their favorite restaurant on Maui. “In 20 years, I’ve never heard a single complaint,” she said.
“The only thing I don’t like is not being able to afford going there once a week,” she laughed.
Ha‘ikū residents Johanna Furtado and her husband have been Waterfront regulars since the Smiths took over 20 years ago. They make the drive to Mā‘alaea at least once a month.
“It’s like my Cheers,” she said. “Everybody knows my name! I love the atmosphere, the personality of the restaurant and its staff and the food is fabulous. We’ve never had a bad meal there.”
She said they always dine at the restaurant on her birthday and their anniversary.
“I love sitting in one of the indoor booths,” she added. “We usually go a little later, because since we live here, we don’t want to take up lanai space from visitors watching the fabulous sunsets.”
While Johanna’s menu favorites include the delicious rack of lamb or filet Diane, she said her husband enjoys the Waterfront’s wild game dishes such as buffalo, venison or frog legs.
“And we always order the Caesar salad table-side,” said Johanna. Oh yes, and they also always order from the restaurant’s superb wine selection. “I like a fume’ blanc with my oysters appetizer—one glass—and then a bottle of a red wine with the entrees.”
Remember the story of Gary’s move from Ohio to Hawai‘i? I don’t know about you, but when I was 25, it never occurred to me to move somewhere based on potential longevity. But it did occur to Gary and watching him, the waitstaff and bartenders at work recently left me with the conclusion that being a planner is a very good thing. And the proof is this very classy, intimate restaurant in Mā‘alaea on the oceanfront, ground floor of the third building at 50 Hauoli St.