No one walking in can miss the canvas. More than four feet on a side, it stands by the front counter, dominating the room. When I walked in one recent lazy Saturday afternoon, just a few pencil marks adorned its surface. Gianna Mitchell, the artist, stood next to it and showed me a photo of an ocean wave she’s using as a guide for her painting. Then she walked around the counter and made me a sandwich.
Welcome to Breakwall Cafe in Lahaina. Located in the center of the 505 Front Street complex, Breakwall serves as a small breakfast, lunch and dinner nook and a studio for Mitchell, who moved to the Westside from Tallahassee, Florida six years ago. Last April she bought the cafe—which was also named Breakwall—and made only slight changes to the brief menu.
The veggie sandwich ($6.50), which I devoured during my Saturday visit, is particularly good. Between two toasted baguette slices—or croissant or bagel halves—she stuffs Brie cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onions and diced pepperoncini. There’s also a Mediterranean Salad ($8), consisting of red leaf lettuce, Brie cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions. And there’s a large array of bagels with toppings, iced teas—the white ambrosia ($2), which tastes of coconut with the barest hint of pineapple, is outstanding—smoothies, cookies and other typical cafe items.
One big change Mitchell made was to replace the couple small tables that used to sit to the right of the counter with her assorted art supplies as well as computers offering web access. She put her own computer and surf boards in one corner, then covered the walls with prints of her art—a mix of her paintings of waves, barrels and surfers and “pointalism” images consisting of nothing more than colored ink dots depicting sunsets around various points of the island.
Mitchell—who wrote a couple stories for Maui Time in 2003—told me she started painting when she was a young girl but is largely self-taught concerning the more technical aspects of paints, oils and stretching canvases. Maui Hands sells some of her works, and she has images displayed at Fish & Poi in Napili, Coffee Store Napili and No Hea Galleries on Oahu. Mitchell said she’ll paint during down times, heading back around the counter when a customer walks in.
While I was finishing my sandwich, one female customer walked in and noticed the small rack of postcards near the cash register.
“Who does the wave pictures?” she asked while waiting for Mitchell to make another sandwich.
“They’re mine,” Mitchell said.
“Oh,” the customer replied, smiling. “They’re good.”
“That’s what I like about painting,” Mitchell later told me. “Someone will see a painting and talk to you, say something they’d never say to you otherwise. It’s a very cool way to make a connection. I don’t know what it is that gets them to tell me what’s on their mind, but I like it. I get that a lot with the surfers. I painted under the Banyan Tree one time. Even though I was listening to music and had headphones on, people were not shy about coming up and talking to me.” MTW