1986 Old Lahaina Luau Opens
The Old Lahaina Luau is owned and operated by Hoaloha Na Eha , Ltd. (four friends) Michael Moore,
Robert Aguiar, Kevin Butler and Tim Moore formed the partnership in 1986.
Robert and Michael actually developed and opened the Luau for a large ocean recreation company, which had leased the land fronting 505 Front Street in Lahaina. The small shopping complex on the southern edge of Lahaina town had recently reopened after the bankruptcy. The recreation company operated the Luau for about five month when it was decided that it was not in their best interest to continue the operation. Though naturally it would take time, Robert and Michael were convinced that the old Lahaina Luau was a great opportunity. Rather than see it close down, they recruited the support of Tim and Kevin gathered their limited savings and presented the owners with an offer to purchase the Luau. It actually took many more meetings and a lot of “pencil sharpening” for an acceptable deal to be made, but eventually the young partners purchased the Old Lahaina Luau.
After many years in the visitor and entertainment industry, the partners felt there was a need for more culturally sensitive entertainment than was then available though the hotel Luau. There was no Luau on Maui strictly showcasing traditional Hawaiian music, dance and food. The Luau operated on lovely oceanfront grounds at 505 Front in Lahaina with a local family catering the food, no liquor license (BYOB) and lots of great comments form the 100 or so guest who attended the three-times-a week show. From the beginning, Hawaiian values of aloha, hookipa (hospitality), and pookela (excellence) have been important ingredients in the business philosophy of Hoaloha Na Eha and the old Lahaina Luau.
The old Lahaina Luau was most definitely a passion for the four partners, but with limited revenue from the operation it was basically a part-time job. All of the partners held other jobs as well as running the Luau. Monthly billing was done by hand, sitting in a circle on the floor of Tim’s rented house. It would be a while before the business could afford an office of office equipment. Funds for advertising were limited at the beginning so marketing consisted of physically going out and inviting activity desks, concierge, bellmen and poll attendants to attend the Luau. The response from the community and guest was very enthusiastic. Soon the Luau was averaging 200 guests per evening.
1988-Old Lahaina Cafe
Despite serious discouragement from bankers business consultants, the partners firmly believed in the quality and future of their product, and in 1986 a restaurant adjacent to the Luau was purchased providing both a liquor license and an on-site kitchen. The purchase further stretched the financial limits of the partners. The Luau was suddenly more than a “love of Hawaiian music and culture”; it was a “real business”. Through obtaining a liquor license and an increased level of control over food quality, Old Lahaina Luau was able to become competitive with larger hotel operations. Though the purchase of the Cafe was risky, it proved to be worth the gamble. Business flourished and soon the Luau was being held seven-nights-a-week with capacity audiences of nearly 300 guests per evening. The old Lahaina Cafe featured local style breakfast lunch and dinner. After the Luau, the Cafe hosted local Hawaiian music as well as some of the great names in Hawaiian music.
1993 - Continued Innovation
The old Lahaina Luau continued to grow in popularity. Quality and “cultural sensitivity” garnered numerous awards and accolades. Then in 1993, a “scathing review” appeared in an important local publication. “We took it and changed everything,” said Michael Moore. We added a fresh flower lei for each guest, upgraded all seating arangements, menus and beverages. As well as increased our prices in order to compensate for the upgrades; which came with no resistance once people experienced the "new" Old Lahaina Luau. The lesson was “to learn from criticism and make it an opportunity,” and even today the Old Lahaina Luau is the only Luau on Maui, which greets its guest with a fresh flower lei.
1996- Aloha Mixed Plate
In 1996 the Hoaloha Na Eha partners opened a local style plate lunch restaurant along the shoreline near Mala Wharf. Aloha Mixed Plate was twice voted “Best Plate Lunch” by readers on of The Maui News. The restaurant’s Coconut Prawn Pupu won “Best Appetizer” in the 1999 Taste of Lahaina food festival.
In the Luau’s tenth year, the partners knew they had to re-invent the attraction in some way. A major reason was the number of repeat visitors. Others were that true entrepreneurs “innovate or die,” traditionally don’t follow advice,” definitely do not adhere to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it: adage. Plans began for a move to a big, new location. In May 1998, the Old Lahaina Luau took up residence at its current magnificent site at the Kaaanapali end of Lahaina town near historic Mala Wharf in a place once know as Moalii. Although almost four times the size of the original site, each guest is still made to feel individually special while enjoying elegant surroundings, “gourmet” Luau food, and cultural entertainment unparalleled in the islands.
Even with a proven track record, financing the move and development was a major obstacle. Once again it took perseverance and a strong belief in the product to reach the goals of the partnership. The Old Lahaina Luau at its new larger location at Moalii has been at the capacity attendance since its opening in May 1998. Fourth year sale projections were reached the first full year of operation.
1999- The Feast at Lele
With the move to Moalii, the Luau and Cafe were closed at 505 Front Street, however the new lessees of the property approached the Hoaloha Na Eha partners to form a new venture at the old sites. The Feast at Lele opened in April 1999 and showcases the food, music and dance of four Pacific Island nations, Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga and Samoa. The evening features a five-course gourmet meal prepared by partner and award-winning Chef James McDonald and Polynesian entertainment produced by the Old Lahaina Luau team. The feast at Lele has already garnered many positive reviews including prestigious, Travel and Leisure Magazine, which said “This is the most fabulous cooking on Maui,” which is saying a lot. The Hoaloha Na Eha partnership is fifty-percent owner of the Feast at Lele.
The Old Lahaina Luau has grown from its humble beginnings to the leadership role it now holds in the industry. At nearly 100 percent capacity year round, the Luau seats 440 guests seven evenings a week, and has a dedicated staff of 160 employees. Hookipa (hospitality) is still the hallmark of the evening at the Luau, with a ratio of one staff person for every twelve guests,
That first year, the Old Lahaina Luau had approximately 21 employees and sales of just over $600,000. Projected sales for year 2001 are $10.3 million and Old Lahaina Luau alone has over 160 employees. The Luau was recognized once again in the HVCB-2000 keep it Hawaii- Kahili Awards program. Aloha Mixed Plate is fast becoming a west side landmark; also winning a Kahili Award in the “Restaurant” category for the “Keep It Hawaii” awards. The Feast at Lele, less than two years old is also becoming an acclaimed dining and entertainment destination.