Choy looking to open Maui restaurant

Celebrity local chef Sam Choy has not had a restaurant on Maui in more than a decade, but he is planning his return.

Choy is looking to open a new restaurant in the space currently occupied by Longboards Ka’anapali at the Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club.

“I’m really thankful to be back on Maui,” Choy said Wednesday outside the Maui County Liquor Control Commission meeting.

Choy was approved for a liquor license at the hearing. He told commissioners that he plans to open the new restaurant in 3 1/2 to 4 months but offered limited details.

“You can expect some really good local stuff going, like beef stew and all the local favorites,” he told the panel.

Following the hearing, Choy told The Maui News that the interior and exterior of the West Maui location would resemble his flagship location in Kailua-Kona.

“We’re probably going to maintain some of its cultural identity,” he said. “We’re not trying to go there and reinvent the wheel. We want to maintain the quality in it and make sure our branding is in it, as well.”

He said the proposed restaurant will share the name of his flagship restaurant – Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai – and that a timetable for the renovations has not been determined.

“Right now, we’re just waiting for the final drawings and the final negotiations to finish,” he said. “It’s a very big undertaking and for us. We want to make sure we do it well.”

David Wong, general manager of the Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club, said that they were still working on a final business agreement with Choy and that they have 180 days before the liquor license expires.

“It’s a step, but not a final step by any means,” he said of the license. “At this point, it’s still a Longboards restaurant, and we intend to run it as one until we find somebody for an agreement.”

Wong said that the restaurant has been owned and operated by the Marriott since it opened about five years ago. The resort has been looking for someone to takeover the spot for the past few years.

“We’ve always looked for a vendor to operate the place, and this is probably the fourth person we’ve entertained in four years,” he said. “We always look to offer owners and guests a different dining experience so if the right vendor comes along and it’s good for them and us, why not?”

Choy said he would like to return to the island, adding that the beachfront restaurant is the perfect location for its name, which means “ocean lanai.”

“It’s definitely a real exciting moment for the brand, and partnering with the Marriott is a great opportunity,” he said. “We just got to make sure all the moving parts are moving in the right direction.”

If ownership is changed, Wong said about 30 full-time and part-time workers will need to either reapply with the new owners or be transferred to another department within the resort. He said the resort would work with employees on severance packages if they are released.

“As an employer, we’re always looking out for the benefits of employees,” he said. “We will ask the tenants to consider our workers but that’s totally up to them as to what they want to do.”

Choy will let the Marriott work things out with its workers but called this a “real priority on our list.”

“We’re nonconfrontational people,” he said. “It’s not like we’re coming in, and they’re coming out.”

Choy’s last restaurants on the island were Sam Choy’s Lahaina Restaurant & Big Aloha Brewery on Front Street and Sam Choy’s Kahului Restaurant, which previously occupied Ruby’s location at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.

Both stores closed in the early 2000s.

“This is probably one of the most demanding (industries) so when you do have the opportunity to open a restaurant you have to bring all your knowledge,” Choy said. “It’s important to be on your toes because, like I said, you see restaurants come and go.

“I had the experience myself.”

At 61 years old, the chef said that he has become “wiser” over the years and that he is focused on building his Kai Lanai brand and possibly living part-time on Maui if the restaurant comes to fruition.

“I’m local boy, born and raised on the islands,” he said. “You know me, I just enjoy making good food for people.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at