Tucked slightly behind the last building in town, before you get to Paia Bay and behind a coconut palm, is the hidden gem known as Paia Bowls. Shaded by a neighboring monkeypod tree, the outdoor spot features a wooden deck decorated by palms and succulents. It might be on the outskirts of town, but its vibe is distinctly Paia. It’s owned by local surfers Luke and Ian Walsh. The spot, which serves light and healthy acai bowls, smoothies and coffee, has been open for over a year.
“Our simple menu resonates with beachgoers and anyone living an active lifestyle,” said Luke. Surfers, yogis and people in shorts working on laptops are their everyday customers. The shop uses fresh, organic and local fare as much as possible.
“Our strawberries, bananas and papayas are local,” said Cindy, who was working behind the counter when I dropped in to grab a bowl and chat.
“The main idea at Paia Bowls is to build your bowl how you want and to make it your own, which is why we offer a variety of additional toppings,” said Luke. “All of our acai is organic and we offer many locally sourced fruit, including our apple bananas, which come on every acai bowl. These toppings include fresh fruit like raspberries, blueberries and papaya, and interesting additions like bee pollen, chia seeds, and maca powder. We also have several smoothies to choose from along with our 100 percent Maui Roast coffee and espressos.”
Cindy encouraged me to top my Surf Bowl with bee pollen. “The honey is from Haiku,” said Lindsay, who was also working when I was there. “You can totally taste the difference.”
“Ian and I always loved eating acai bowls before and after surf sessions,” said Luke. “It’s a light meal full of healthy fruit that gives you natural energy. It’s difficult to eat a heavy meal that will weigh you down if you want to continue to surf throughout the day. We always had a hard time finding acai bowls on the island of Maui, but would indulge whenever we visited Oahu for surf contests or to surf the North Shore where acai bowls were more common.”
The fare is healthy–light, fresh and yummy–and the space is really cute. Tucked behind Puka Puka, the uncovered lanai is shaded by trees, and locals and tourists sit at tables and the bar. The ocean air is tangible so close to the beach.
The photogenic setting has inspired several Instagram photoshoots, which the girls working there laugh about. “Wish they’d warn me,” Cindy joked as she made my acai bowl.
The fact that the place is a bit off the beaten path is one of the nice things about Paia Bowls. “Our location can be a bit difficult to find for first-timers,” said Luke. “However, many of our customers enjoy that we are tucked away from the main sidewalk of Paia and have a welcoming, tropical atmosphere.”
Or, as Cindy put it: “It’s nice and relaxing, really quiet. There aren’t very many places to just sit in Paia.”
You can watch the employees bustle around behind the counter through a large window, which displays the clean and pretty kitchen. Beautiful ocean photographs hang over shelves full of local bananas, papayas and mason jars labeled with ingredients like granola, cacao nibs and spirulina.
“Our Paia Bowls employees are awesome and really represent the spirit of aloha,” said Luke. “We’ve known each other for years,” Cindy responded.
The brothers Walsh, who are a fixture in the Maui surf community, opened Paia Bowls with Sam Custin, Luke’s old University of Hawaii roommate. Years ago, the boys discussed opening shop together, but Luke accepted a sports marketing position in California “to try life outside the islands and to gain some traveling experiences,” he said, while Custin went on to open Haleiwa Bowls in the North Shore of Oahu.
The Walsh brothers opened the doors on their Paia Bowls venture to solid local support. “We had always dreamed of owning a local acai bowl cafe in our home town of Paia,” said Luke. “After a few years on the mainland, I returned home with the intentions of moving forward with that dream. So Ian and I partnered up with Sam who now had extensive experience in this business.
“We have been open for over one year and things are going great. We have awesome local support and have created quite a buzz with many tourists,” Luke added.
“Business has been good,” said Cindy. “There are locals that come every day, and tourists who are really excited to try it.”
“We are a family-run business that pride ourselves on living a healthy, active, island lifestyle,” said Luke. It shows.
43 Hana Hwy., Paia
Photos courtesy Paia Bowls