DID THE LC DO SOMETHING RIGHT?
Not sure if any of you realize this, but back in March–at the same time as that absurd nonsense about shutting down all entertainment at 10pm in Kihei Kalama Village–the Maui County Liquor Commission voted to do something good: they made it legal for people to bring their own bottles of wine into restaurants to drink during dinner or whatever. According to Traci Villarosa, the Liquor Control Department’s deputy director, the rule change came at the behest of a member of the public. It’s called “corkage,” and until March it was legal everywhere in Hawaii except Maui.
On Wednesday, July 11, the Liquor Commission revisited the corkage rule (MauiTime’s print deadline made it impossible to report the outcome of that hearing). The reason for the hearing? A June 1 letter signed by 14 of Maui’s biggest chefs and restaurant owners that calls on the commission to make corkage illegal again.
“It is unfortunate that most of us were unaware this statute was being passed or we would have expressed our views in a more timely manner,” stated the letter. “There is a growing number of restaurants that would like to see the law repealed as soon as possible. In addition, upon hearing our concerns, the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association has offered their assistance to make the necessary changes in this law.”
The letter was signed by the elite of Maui’s culinary scene:
• Dickie Moon (Duke’s Beach House, Kimo’s, Hula Grill, Leilani’s)
• Jurg Munch (Lahaina Grill)
• Roy Dunn (Plantation House, Koho Grill & Bar)
• Amy Kantorczyk (Ko Restaurant)
• David Paul (David Paul’s Island Grill)
• Bev Gannon (Haliimaile General Store, Joe’s Bar & Grill, Gannon’s)
• James MacDonald (Pacific’O, I’o, Feast at Lele)
• Jacques Perwin (Spago)
• Randy Schoch (Ruth’s Chris)
• Aaron Placourakis (Nick’s Fishmarket, Sarento’s on the Beach, Son’z at Swan Court)
• Chris Kaiwi (Pineapple Grill, Melting Pot, 100 Wines)
• D.K. Kodama (Sansei, Maui Fish & Pasta)
• Elizabeth Belbot (Capische?)
• Michael Rose (Longhi’s Wailea)
• Roger Morey (Hawaii Restaurant Association)
The letter does not explain why the restaurant owners oppose the law. Morey, the Hawaii Restaurant Association’s executive director, said that his organization’s appearance in the letter “came at a request from some of our members” but didn’t offer anything more specific. But Placourakis, president and CEO of TS Restaurants, said his biggest reason to oppose corkage was how it hurt restaurant employees.
“Instead of being able to make a nice sale, say, $80, $90 or $100 a bottle, all of a sudden customers can now bring in wine,” he said. “Where does it end? Can you bring in your own fish? Bring in your own steak? There are thousands of waiters in this industry–if they think this is a good idea, I’d like to hear from them.”
What’s more, Villarosa said the law is “permissive”–it provides owners the option of allowing corkage, but it’s not mandatory.
Before the rule change, restaurant staffers could simply tell patrons that the LC prohibited corkage. But now the industry that, as Placourakis said, “is in the business to say ‘yes,'” has to say no and to tell patrons that their own policy prohibits corkage.
Now not all Maui restaurants want to roll back the clock on corkage. For at least a week, Mama’s Fish House–one of the most famous (and expensive) establishments on island–has been running big advertisements in The Maui News calling on residents to fight to keep corkage alive.
“The decision by our Liquor Commission and Mayor [Alan] Arakawa was the right decision and should not be reversed,” states the ad that ran on June 29. “If you agree, they need to hear from you.”
According to Karen Christenson, a manager at Mama’s, their reasoning behind supporting corkage is simple.
“Our motivation for urging the LC to keep the new rule is that we want to be WINE FRIENDLY,” she wrote in a July 7 email. “[W]e welcome customers to bring in their special bottles of wine for their special occasions they choose to celebrate with us. Maui has become the premiere [sic] island resort destination in the country and we are in total support of a liquor law that is current with most of the rest of the country.”
Not to be too cynical here, but Mama’s also charges a corkage fee of $35 (by comparison, Nobu Waikiki, a high-class Japanese steakhouse part owned by Robert DeNiro, charges customers bringing their own wine $25). That’s a lot of money to shell out for a process that, according to MauiTime’s resident sommelier Jason Cass, takes 15 seconds (though he added that decanting older wine does take three minutes while undoing a screw-cap takes a mere 1.3 seconds).
Mama’s ad is also somewhat misleading. According to Mama’s ad, the LC also recently “modernized Maui’s laws” so that you can now “take your unfinished bottle of wine home with you” after dinner. Villarosa says that’s actually a new state law which came into effect a couple years ago, and that the Liquor Commission merely added it to the county’s rules. This has, Villarosa said, caused a great deal of “confusion” surrounding the new rules.
As for Mama’s call for action, Villarosa said the department has received about 50 emails so far from individuals wanting to keep the corkage law in place. How the Liquor Commission dealt with them, and the calls from restaurants to re-criminalize corkage, weren’t known at press time. Villarosa said they could either vote to keep the law the way it is, in which case nothing further happens, or they can vote to initiate “rule-making,” which will start a new, months-long process that involves new public hearings on a proposed rule change.
GARDEN OF MAUI
It’s pretty sad that I’ve spent seven years of my life on Maui but only noticed the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens are few weeks ago when I went to a No Koa Ikaika Maui baseball game. I still didn’t think much of the gardens (which sit across the street from Iron Maehara Stadium in Kahului) until the July/August 2012 issue of Maui No Ka Oi Magazine showed up and I read Paul Wood’s great story “Planted with Purpose.”
My girlfriend and I strolled around the place on Saturday, and couldn’t believe how serene it all was. Now I could attempt to describe the wonder that is looking at rare, endangered plants (including a wiliwili tree) that exist nowhere else on the planet, but I think it’s best if I just let Wood take it:
“Nowhere else in this cluster of geographically related, sea-wrapped mountains can you easily park your car and stroll into a world populated entirely by native plants,” Wood wrote. “The leaves are unfamiliar, the flowers subtle, the names unheard-of. But you’ll be looking into the authentic face of Hawaii, a botanical personality that evolved in perfect isolation by means of one accidental introduction every 35,000 years or so over millions of years.”