Leilani’s and Hula Grill Celebrate Decades of Aloha

The T-shaped intersection where Whalers Village meets Kā‘anapali Beach is a busy spot, with a constant tide of beachgoers flowing out, and hungry shoppers flowing in. But through it all, season after season, year after year, two venerable Kā‘anapali establishments rule their respective corners with grace and style.

Leilani’s on the Beach is the matriarch—for 34 years, she has reposed in her lava rock terrace on the south corner. Across the way, Hula Grill with her thatched palapas is the younger sister, but only by a slim dozen years.

Whalers Village

Both are TS Restaurants, which mark alone gives them a strong degree of integrity. It means they are part of the Legacy of Aloha established by TS founders Rob Thibaut and Sandy Saxten back in 1977. The legacy manifests in many different charitable forms, but at its core is a philosophy of giving, of contributing to the community in ways that are positive and long-lasting. On Maui, those causes take shape in perpetuating Hawaiian culture and supporting the ‘aina and local residents.

Hula Grill was a founding member of Localicious Dine Out Maui, in which $1 from every Localicious salad sold supports Growing Future Farmers. (Not surprising, considering Hula Grill also counts Peter Merriman, one of the founding members of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, as a managing partner!) A portion of the proceeds from the Chef’s Tasting Menu is donated to Hale Kau Kau, a meal program founded in 1991 to feed the hungry. For the last 20 years, Hula Grill has given an Educator of the Month award and dinner for two to a deserving teacher, and staff even pitched in this spring to paint old portable buildings at King Kamehameha III Elementary School. Hula Grill’s Executive Chef Charlie Owen was recently photographed for his part in a children’s cookbook titled “Keiki in the Kitchen” to be released later this year.

Hula Grill

At Leilani’s, the Cajun Rubbed Ono tacos fly out the door on Taco Tuesdays, with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit Legacy of Aloha programs. Last year marked the second time that Leilani’s has mentored students from Maui Culinary Academy at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College, leading them through two busy days in the restaurant world side-by- side with Leilani’s Executive Chef Ryan Luckey. Chef Luckey and his team custom-designed the menu for this year’s Ho‘okako‘o “Glass for Class” benefit fundraiser for Kualapu‘u Public Conversion Charter School on Moloka‘i.

“We’re so happy to be able to give back. Legacy of Aloha keeps us focused on serving the community, and helps us all to come to work in the right frame of mind. It’s really about respect, and we feel that’s an essential part of doing business anywhere, but especially here in the islands.”

Hula Grill

Over the years, some things do change: an ever-rotating lineup of music at the Barefoot Bar (and don’t forget free ‘ukulele lessons every Friday!), new specials and menu items (like the new veggie side dishes at Hula Grill), a fresh crop of graduates of Maui Culinary Academy joining the ranks in the restaurants’ kitchens.

But some things just stay the same: Happy Hour and Hula Pie at Leilani’s; both chefs’ insistence on sourcing food from Maui farmers, ranchers and fishermen; those radiant Kā‘anapali sunsets that linger over the ocean. And of course, the constant tide of beachgoers flowing out, and hungry shoppers flowing in, day in, day out, at this busy and beautiful corner of Shopping and Beach.