Who matters on Maui?
And, more essentially, who matters to Maui? As we enter a new year—full of hope and uncertainty—we thought it was a good time to ask the question.
Our answer is in the following pages: twenty movers and shakers in art, food and politics who are shaping our island’s future. Some of the names will be familiar to you; others may not. But they all share one thing: the drive, skill and passion to be leaders not merely in their chosen fields, but the community at large.
They matter to us, they matter to you—and they most decidedly matter to Maui.
Words by: Anu Yagi, Jen Russo, Sara Tekula & Jacob Shafer
Photos by: Sean Michael Hower, Naomi D. Sheikin, Henry Arroyo, Britney Kidd, Brendan Smith & Chris Skiles
The Public Servant
Twenty-ten was a big year for Jo Anne Johnson: she lost her husband of 30 years to complications from Parkinson’s disease, finished her fifth and final term on the County Council, was tapped by incoming Mayor Alan Arakawa to head up the County Department of Transportation—and got remarried. “I didn’t expect it,” says Johnson of the nuptials, “but it’s proof that some things really are meant to be.” Her new husband is a rabbi and an old friend who she re-connected with via the Internet. “He cooks and cleans,” Johnson says with a smile. “Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am.”
But her personal life isn’t the only area where changes are afoot. After ten years representing the people of West Maui, Johnson is now tasked with overseeing the County bus system—among other things—and finding ways to maintain and improve service in the face of budget constraints and bureaucratic red tape. The challenges may be new, but Johnson says her approach will be the same. “Transportation touches everyone,” she says, “the elderly and disabled, students and young people, visitors. I see it as a chance to have a broad impact.”
Though she still has a passion for public service, Johnson has ruled out seeking further elected office. “I think that should be left to younger people,” she says, referencing her successor on the Council, Elle Cochran. “That doesn’t mean I’m not motivated,” she’s quick to add. “I love Maui and I always will. But now, I think, I can be active in other ways.” – JS
The Sound Shaman
When Kanoa Kukaua lets his voice loose, it’s a galvanized tempest. Both a multi-instrumentalist and effervescent frontman, Kanoa is the conductor of a calescent current of well-honed talent.
“If I’m not feeling [music], or hearing it, or seeing it, I’m thinking about it,” he says. “It consumes me badly. I’m a fiend.”
The way Kanoa expresses himself—both onstage and off—effuses a judicious candidness that is, in a word, likable. And while we can’t help but wax poetic about Kanoa, part of what makes him so great is his own inexorable humility.
“Like any local boy,” he began playing uke at the tender age of seven, taught by his Pukalanian grandmother whom he credits as a major inciter of his passion for sound. She was also, he says, “a Hawaiian healer,” which influenced him in another way: he’s a certified nursing assistant and worked for nine years at the Kula Hospital. Working with senior citizens helped cultivate his love of live performance, “learning about crowds and how to take the reins of a room.” Whether playing for bunches or before a bed-bound audience of one, the experience made him “a true believer in healing through music.” He’s also shared his gifts with students, as a teacher of Polynesian music at King Kekaulike High School.
Since he began performing professionally at the age of 15, Kanoa has been part of at least 11 groups—all with solid name recognition. Right now, his bands include local greats like Gomega and Rampage, plus new-to-the-scene “conceptual rock” group Owaila. Kanoa says this constant transition is what forced him to develop his solo work in 2005, and was the reason he discovered his love of looping and beatboxing.
This past year, fans have had the pleasure of watching Kanoa blossom, as if the freshness he hopes to “continue to evolve” in his music is now drenched over his countenance. But he’s aiming his sights even higher: “I want to be a voice for everybody.” – AY
The Hawaii-Cuisine Pioneer
Looking for female inspiration in the boys club that is the food and beverage industry? Look no further than Chef Bev Gannon.
“I like to throw great parties,” Chef Gannon says. “And no matter what I do, I have to be the best I can be.” It’s those two philosophies that created her current love triangle of Maui restaurants: Hali‘imaile General Store, Joe’s and Gannon’s A Pacific View.
“As a female it took me longer to earn respect,” Gannon says of the early days. “I’ve had to work harder.” That hard work has paid off, with a list of accolades that includes Small Business Person of the year for the state of Hawaii and a loyal celebrity following at all her restaurants.
Hali‘imaile General Store opened in 1988, just three years after Bev launched a catering company called Celebrations. More than 20 years later, Hali‘imaile remains her most renowned restaurant, appreciated internationally for its Asian-inspired Americana dishes.
In 1991, Gannon was one of the founding members of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Movement, defining the enduring style along with fellow Maui chefs Mark Ellman and Peter Merriman and Oahu’s Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi.
In late 1995, Gannon opened Joe’s in Wailea and created her own brand of gourmet comfort food. Finally, Gannon’s A Pacific View opened in December 2009. Its menu, like Bev, is still evolving. “Every time I open a restaurant I think it will be a breeze,” she says. “Now here I am, 22 years after opening Hali‘imaile General Store, and I felt like a novice again.”
Ultimately, Gannon says, the key is to mix it up yet always satisfy. “We have to have a bit of a challenge and stir things up a bit. [But] I think we should give folks what they want.” – JR
The Ascendant Politician
Every politician worth his wingtips can feign humility. But coming from Maui Sen. Shan Tsutsui, it actually seems genuine. Like when we asked him how it felt to be the youngest Senate President ever, and the first from the Valley Isle, and he replied, “I honestly didn’t know until someone pointed it out.”
A graduate of Maui High and UH Manoa, Tsutsui was first elected to the state Senate in 2002 at the tender age of 31. He moved from the Tourism Committee to vice-chairing the more powerful Ways and Means Committee and finally to the chamber’s top post after cruising to reelection in November.
Impressive, especially for someone who generally flies under the radar while his more boisterous and controversial colleagues grab headlines. Then again, it may be that very trait that earned Tsutsui the job; he doesn’t go out of his way to make enemies, even among the almost invisible Republican minority. In fact, Tsutsui told us, he appreciates that as Senate President—as opposed to Majority Leader—his job is to “listen to all 25 members and make sure every voice is heard.”
Quiet though it may be, Tsutsui’s voice isn’t going away any time soon. – JS
Chef James McDonald had a stellar year by any measure. He welcomed a new baby (number three), and won the Maui Onion Festival recipe contest with his Upcountry ravioli, a pasta tribute to Haleakala. His newest venture among five operations, Aina Gourmet Market, won awards for its design and celebrated its one-year anniversary. The list goes on, but it’s McDonald’s passion for food and using Maui-grown ingredients—and sharing that with the world—that earns him a spot on this list.
McDonald is executive chef and partner at several Maui venues: Pacific‘o Restaurant, I‘o Restaurant, Feast at Lele, O‘o Farms and the aforementioned Aina Gourmet. “In 2000, the land was purchased in Kula but we had no particular thought of what to do with it at that time,” he explains of O‘o Farms. “I grew my food as a kid, and the flavors are impeccable. I still hate having a middleman on my food purchases.” Now the farm not only grows food for all McDonald’s restaurants, but offers tours and gourmet on-site meals.
“Farming is tough,” McDonald acknowledges. “Seasons, pests, lack of water—and there are just some things you can’t grow. We had to figure it out.” Fortnunately, figuring it out is one of McDonald’s skills. When he started I‘o, the idea of doing a competing restaurant next door to Pacific‘o was almost unheard of. But the super-creative menu quickly garnered a whole new set of fans. When he opened Feast at Lele—a gourmet, five-star luau experience—he broke the mold yet again.
What’s next for McDonald? More daring reinvention. “I’m in the process of revamping the Pacific‘o menu and we just launched I‘o’s new menu,” he says. “My newer style focuses on the beauty of minimalism in food. Purity on the plate. I want my dishes simple and clean, [to] let the flavors shine through.” McDonald says that’s “one of the hardest things to master.” But luckily, he adds, “My profession is my passion is my life.” – JR
Here’s a truism more and more people are waking up to: opening night at any of Paia Tattoo Parlor’s revolving art exhibitions will transport you. Surely, you think, you’re in the belly of a big city’s burgeoning art scene. Surely this can’t be Maui. But why not? Why can’t our art scene (bludgeoned by blase beachscapes though it may be) champion chic avant garde? In their inaugural year of business, the parlor has managed to create “a community-based art space” that by its moxie alone has generated an unequivocal buzz.
Helmed by husband and wife team Leah Honma and Justin Yates—excellent artists themselves who own the shop in partnership with Lasha and William Roy Crandal—the parlor has become mission control for a previously hidden sector of the art community. If that sounds socially nerve-wracking, have no fear. Throw any ideas of art gallery and/or tattoo shop snobbishness out the window; in keeping with the parlor’s pono mission, their vibe is infused with an openness that melds candor and cool.
Exhibitions run the gamut: woodcarving, printmakers, polymer clay sculptors, iPhone photographers, oil painters. The curated work clearly speaks to a certain aesthetic (the antithesis of just another palm tree in paradise), but the works appeal to anyone and everyone. – AY
The Restoration Revolutionary
On first impression, Dr. Art Medeiros—the visionary behind the popular “Auwahi” native habitat restoration project and technical advisor of the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership—appears to be extremely shy, even hermit-like. He speaks softly, prefers alone-time in the forest (which he refers to as his “church”) and is a self-proclaimed “nerd.”
The fact that this is the same man who has led over 2,800 volunteers in carefully replanting more than 180 acres of native forest is enough to make you reconsider your first impression. He’s no shrinking violet. To the contrary, Medeiros is widely known as the fearless leader of a revolution in restoration. Mention his name and you’ll hear words like “inspiration” and “rare gem.”
As a young man on Oahu, Art cultivated a love of plants and animals. When he started to focus on Hawaii’s native species, his true mission began. “As I learned the Hawaiian plants, I quickly learned that all Hawaiian plants are in trouble,” he recalls. Eventually his botany research brought him to Maui’s leeward side, where only 10 percent of the native habitat remains intact after massive deforestation wiped out rare, endemic flora and the introduction of hoofed animals kept them from returning. He’s been working there ever since.
Inside what is known as Auwahi I, II, and III—sections of devastated land that are being rescued inside “exclosure” fences on Leeward Haleakala’s Ulupalakua Ranch—Art’s dream is slowly coming true. Over the past 10 years, Medeiros and his loyal crew have made 173 volunteer trips to Auwahi and have planted 82,323 native trees and plants. Amazingly, the fruits of their collective restoration work can be seen from outer space via Google Earth.
Even with such wild success, Medeiros remains humble, giving credit to his many kumu, staff and supporters.
“I once admitted to having some good ideas,” he says. “But good ideas don’t go anywhere without land owners like the Erdman Family [who own Ulupalakua Ranch], funders and all of our volunteers.” – ST
The Deep-Sea Vodka Maker
Oceans Vodka is a family-owned Maui company, but their product isn’t distilled on the Valley Isle. This is no great secret; president Shay Smith will be the first to tell you. “Yeah we get criticized by the competition because we don’t distill the spirit here, but we are making it here,” he says. Smith says two factors influence the off-island distillation: a desire to keep the vodka organic, and quality control.
The process by which Oceans Vodka gets to market is fascinating. It starts with organic sugar cane, grown free of pesticides and with no genetic modifications. The cane juice is then distilled by master Bill Scott on the Mainland. This product is combined with MaHalo Hawaii Deep Sea water from Kono‘a Koyo U.S.A.—pulled from 3,000 feet below sea level and desalinated—in a Maui warehouse, then bottled by Smith’s parents. The result is 80-proof, virtually flavor-free booze. No other vodka is made this way.
“We set out six years ago to create a Hawaii product,” Smith explains. “Our goal was to be as popular as macadamia nuts, but we didn’t want to make a tourist product. We wanted a local product to compete on the world market.”
It’s working—Oceans can be now found in at least 10 states, plus Canada and Japan. “We are committed to making a difference to our planet through being an organic product,” says Smith. “And being a Maui company.” – JR
The Outside-the-Box Educator
Hawaii’s public education system is broken. Our schools are failing, our teachers are overburdened and our keiki are falling further and further behind. Just don’t tell Susana Browne.
“There are so many wonderful teachers and principals doing good work,” says Browne, director of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Arts in Education program. “It’s frustrating to see mostly bad news reported.” Browne acknowledges there are problems—many of them, she says, stemming from the crippling requirements of standardized testing—but she remains hopeful.
A big part of her optimism stems from the Arts in Education program itself, which teaches teachers how to be, well, better teachers. The idea is simple yet revolutionary: use art—both visual and performance—to teach every subject. “When children are active and engaged,” says Browne, “they’re much more likely to learn.” Since its inception 15 years ago, the program has trained about 800 teachers.
Browne says the “three Rs” should be supplemented by the “four Cs”: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. “If you’re engaged in the arts, those things are going to automatically happen,” she says. “And those are the big 21st century skills that the business community and universities are looking for.”
Browne points to Kahului’s Pomaikai‘i Elementary as an example of arts education in action. Founded in 2007, the school has managed to teach through the arts and meet the stringent requirements of No Child Left Behind. “It’s a steep learning curve,” Browne admits. “But when you visit the campus, you see something amazing: happy teachers—and happy kids.” – JS
The Dynamic Duo
“Were MOTH to meet the devil and be challenged to a duel, they would not only keep their souls but snag Satan’s too,” we wrote in a June 2010 feature. Maybe we were on to something: how, other than a deal with the devil, could this musical duo outdo itself with every concert?
Taking their great metallic swoops of musical creation to ever-higher full-sensory heights, MOTH’s all-original sets are crafted especially for live performance. Case in point: their headlining of last week’s Wailuku First Friday, wherein they concocted a spectacle part P.T. Barnum, part prog-rock film festival. The show was steeped in MOTH’s trademark transcendental mystique: two sultry dancers towered 12-feet-tall on stilt-ettos while Asian fans, silken wings and neon poi balls kissed the sky in synchronization to tunes like “Scimitar” and “The Late, Great Billy Idol.”
Creating a deceptively choate sound, the men of MOTH—drummer James Bowersox and guitarist James “Cotton” Hartman—first burst onto the scene from a big black bus at last year’s Battle of the Bands at Mulligans on the Blue. Since then, it’s been all-senses-go.
With rock that renders moments of reckoning—reminding the listener of the elemental roils of our alien Earth—MOTH makes musical memories and engineers experiences not to be forgotten. If they didn’t conquer Hell to attain their six-string and stick skills, they are at the very least timewarp-trapped messengers from some intrepid future of sight and sound. – AY
The Health Nuts
Not many restaurants have a nutritionist at the helm, and even fewer boast a staff with Ayurvedic and macrobiotic cooking skills. But Cafe Prana Nui in Haiku is all about being different. Chef Jason Skandunas and nutritionist Jessica Quinn operate out of a little reclaimed food bus, bringing a breath of fresh, healthy air to the local dining scene.
“We found the bus in Honokowai and three months later we were operating,” Skandunas says. “‘Prana’ means life force in Sanskrit, and ‘nui’ means abundant in Hawaiian. Those are the tenets of our cafe. We designed our menu to harmonize with the other restaurants, bring something to the table that others aren’t doing. Lots of local farmers contribute, and we have an incredible amount of community support.”
One of the first thing you notice when ordering is the Dosha chart, posted above the menu. It’s a list of attributes that distinguishes your body as kapha, pitta or vata, key components to understanding Ayurvedic eating. “Your dosha can change from moment to moment,” Quinn explains. “Different ways of cooking food affect your body. The idea is to balance yourself. We are breaking that down for you, and making it part of your experience.”
If all that sounds a little heavy, don’t worry—the idea is to make the menu approachable and to make health food accessible for everyone. “I’m not doing this for the money,” says Skandunas. “I’m sticking with my philosophy of food.” – JR
The Filmmaker With Foresight
With Get A Job—a polished, hyper local endeavor—filmmaker Brian Kohne has done a beautiful thing for Maui movies. “About us, by us,” is how Kohne describes it. We describe it as the best Maui-made fictional film ever produced—by far.
Shot entirely on the Valley Isle over 21 days, the comedy features 175 local cast members—all delightfully recognizable as friends, family and famous Mauians. It isn’t the end-all be-all of local movie making—but it’s a wonderful beginning.
Get A Job screened to a standing-room-only audience at the MACC’s Castle Theater in November (if you missed it, or want to see it again, never fear: tickets go on sale January 13 for a special four-day, 12-run screening at the Iao Theater), then boasted an after party that’s already the stuff of legend. Soon, the flick will make migration through the international film circuit.
The lead roles are filled by Willie “K” Kahaiali‘i and Eric Gilliom, whose prodigious musical talents have been moving and shaking Maui since their hanabata days. Their performances are impressive, but what’s really cool is that it’s all a part of Kohne’s master plan, which involves live performances, more movies and a spin-off TV show.
Ambitious? Sure. Improbable? Perhaps. But it’s about time a Maui filmmaker reached for the stars. – AY
The Craft Brewers
Maui Brewing Company’s Garret Marrero and Melanie Oxley were very busy last year, like Maui menehune of beer. Now, the Valley Isle can boast along with them that we have the the largest craft brewery in the state.
Their production facility expansions in 2010 included two 47,000-pound grain silos and a half-dozen 100-barrel fermenters, plus a few 14-barrel fermenters for experimental brews.
You can stop by and sample during open hours at the Lahaina facility, where they also launched tours of the brewing and canning areas. It’s a real get-to-know-your-beer experience.
“Not only have we won more medals than any other craft brewery in the state, but now we also have the largest capacity in Hawaii,” says Marrero. “We are honored and thankful that craft beer fans both locally and around the world have embraced our products so wholeheartedly.”
MBC was also a major catalyst behind the Brewers Festival—Maui’s first-ever beer fest and a fundraiser for the Maui Arts & Cultural Center—which will celebrate three years in May. And their commitment to the environment is unflagging; they purchase recycled equipment whenever possible, and pass spent grain to local ranchers for compost and feed.
Their seven-barrel Kahana Brewpub is a hot spot on the West side, where patrons can sample unique brews like Santa’s Helper, Milk of Amnesia and Amber Reign on an ice bar along with gourmet pub food and regular entertainment.
With their new high speed canning line just completed—increasing their canning capacity from 27 cans per minute to 300—they refuse to rest on their laurels. Other expansions for 2011 include adding a solar array installation in the brewpub and the production brewery. Just another year for our busy little beer elves. – JR
The Community Crackerjack
“Matt Lane is relentless in his passion for Maui, an uncommon quality in young, typically transient transplants,” we wrote in a 2009 cover story spotlighting Lane’s then fifth, highly successful installment of the Lahaina Town Cleanup. “More than talk, his actions speak powerfully.”
Since then, our awareness of Lane and his activism have grown. Over the last year we’ve learned that when Lane so much as casually espouses a new idea to change Maui (or the world), it’s no flighty proposition. He’s got a knack for devising innovative solutions to support his lofty ideals—which, most importantly, yield measurable results. Some of the seeds he’s helped plant and nurture to fruition this past year include the Community Work Day Program, Guitars in the Classroom and the island-wide expansion of his coastal cleanups to include the island’s South, Central, North and East shores.
His accomplishments stem from a number of qualities—he’s affable, positive and vision-driven—but maybe most of all it’s his ability to organize a team and maximize the strengths and skills of others. In fact, try to give Lane any credit for his leadership skills and he’s the first to turn around and dole it out to anyone but himself.
“I didn’t always think about these things. Now, every day of my life I’m thinking of it,” he told us in 2009. When reminded of that now, he laughs—not at his idealism, but at how the sentiment is even truer today. – AY
Where the roads within your mind bifurcate between what’s human and what’s beast, what’s male and what’s female, what’s science and what’s fiction—that’s where Ghalib El-Khalidi’s artwork exists. Darkly radiant, impossibly imaginative and endlessly fascinating, the creatures and insects he expertly creates on paper or out of polymer clay seem a peek into the mind’s eye of a god from an alternate universe.
El-Khalidi—a science illustrator who earned his MFA from Goddard College last February and who plans to pursue his second Master’s degree abroad this August—held his rookie solo exhibition, “Cabinet of Curiosities,” in September at the Paia Tattoo Parlor. Astonishingly, it was in creating this collection last summer that El-Khalidi says he discovered his skill for sculpting.
“I heard more buzz than I’d heard in a long time,” contributor Sara Tekula wrote of El-Khalidi’s show in an October 2010 cover story. “People were talking as if some mysterious, nameless artist had suddenly descended upon Maui.”
While he seems to have appeared miraculously (and although he just celebrated attaining US citizenship last spring, after a 10-year-long battle), El-Khalidi is longtime Mauian and says that it was the enthusiastic purveyors of the parlor’s progressive new art space who literally lured him “from hiding.”
“There are so many more options to being a working artist than just selling work—which I’ve been able to do,” he says. “There are artist residencies, for example.” He decribes travel he’s already logged from the Middle East to Europe (with another two-month stint upcoming this spring). “You just have to be creative as to where and how you do it.”
Ultimately, part of the career El-Khalidi envisions for himself is working with forensics in museums, helping scientists visualize from the fossil record what ancient creatures may have looked like with flesh, feathers and fur.
But this precisionist who oozes such artful genius probably won’t limit himself to any one thing. And while he’ll soon be parting company with the Valley Isle temporarily, look out for a film debut in the near future that truly should not be missed. Make sure you get your eyeful now—because we’re betting that Ghalib El-Khalidi will soon be an arthousehold name. – AY
The Wine Master
You’re out to dinner with friends and you want to order a bottle of wine off an extensive, expensive wine list. What do you do? Ask an expert. At Merriman’s Kapalua, like many restaurants these days, you can request the sommelier.
Up until recently, that sommelier was Jason “Cass” Castle. (Even if you don’t love wine, Jason’s name might be familiar; he’s penned a few wine articles that have appeared in MauiTime and has written for other publications.)
“I was going to go to law school but I figured out that you could make money drinking wine,” says Castle. “I decided that I would become a master sommelier by the time I am 34.” In October 2010 he completed the arduous advanced sommelier exam, joining a select group of less than 400 individuals—in the world.
An eccentric grape geek, Cass’s approach is anything but ordinary. “I break the ice and steal subtle points about their favorite wines and comfortable price points,” he says of his approach to patrons. “Then I ask them to pick one word that has nothing to do with the wine that describes what they want, like roses, purple or soft. [People] always love it. Ninety percent of the time they want something they love to drink, but not necessarily the perfect traditional pairing to their food.”
His legacy at Merriman’s may be the Werewolf Wine Club, where the full moon and great vino have combined under his tutelage for the past two years, creating a burgeoning wine club following.
For someone who never had a sip of alcohol until he was 19—and was introduced to wine via a box—it has been a journey. And it’s ongoing—Castle plans to pass another, even more difficult test next year and ascend to an even more rarefied sommelier status. “I’ll continue to push myself and interact with the masters of the craft,” he says. “I hope my contribution is to relate to people, with respect to wine, on a different level.” – JR
The Purveyor of Page and Stage
Scriptwriter, educator and thespian Tom Althouse has masterfully taken on many challenging roles in the local theater scene. He first stole our hearts playing The Emcee in ProArts Playhouse’s fall 2009 rendition of Cabaret. “From the velvet divide, out pops Althouse’s leather-sleeved arm—fingers writhing, beckoning come-hither, to the delighted squeals of the audience,” we wrote in our review.
Currently, Althouse is acting as The Boy in ProArts’ The Fantasticks, and is “having a blast” directing Montessori School of Maui students in their upcoming showcase of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But more than his captivating onstage presence, Althouse is doing wonders for theater on Maui behind the scenes.
His witty writing chops were made evident in the recent Iao Theater ONO! (one night only) production of his original play, The Worthmores. The acumen and cohesiveness of Althouse’s baroque tale of twisted love made it seem like much more than just a reading, with cast members keeping scripts in hand, and left the audience hungry for more.
Many also know Althouse for his blog—The Truth Behind The Matrix—wherein he argues that he “wrote the screenplay that the Wachowski brothers used to create The Matrix,” and that he “was told by a Warner Brothers exec to submit it because he said Warner Brothers was going to make it.” It’s a bold claim, but does appear to be backed up by some evidence.
Althouse calls the experience a “rough spot in my life as a young writer,” but says it was the catalyst that eventually led him to Maui and sparked his interest in children’s musicals, as well as teaching theater and sports at local schools. It may not be Hollywood fame, but it’s a gig Althouse describes with one simple word: “Rewarding.” – AY