Restaurant opens at Hotel Molokai

Members of the Hiro family and their staff pose outside Hiro’s Ohana Grill, which opened for business Monday. Brothers and managing partners Cameron Hiro, Raymond Hiro and John Pele hoped to start a business so their children could come home to work. • Hiro’s Ocean Grill photo

For the first time in almost five months, dinner is served at Hotel Molokai again.

The family-run Hiro’s Ohana Grill opened to the public Monday evening, offering fine dining at the seaside hotel, and a business that the family hopes will allow its children to come home to Molokai.

“One of the main reasons was to have a business for our kids, the next generation,” Cameron Hiro, a chef and one of the managing partners, said Monday. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to start a business of our own, utilizing our gifts and talents that we have?’ “

Run by brothers Cameron Hiro, Raymond Hiro and John Pele, the restaurant employs 30 people, including about a dozen family members.

After Hale Kealoha closed down at the end of February, hotel General Manager Michael Drew approached the Hiros about possibly opening a restaurant, Cameron Hiro said.

Plates of the ahi and salmon poke special, bruschetta caprese and the seafood trio await delivery to customers. The restaurant and bar are open from 6 to 9 p.m. daily. The family plans to add lunch in a couple of weeks. • Hiro’s Ocean Grill photo

The family had already been looking for a place to start one. Chef Sherwood “Woody” Hiro, Raymond Hiro’s eldest son, wanted to return to Molokai from Oahu to work. Pele had a daughter on the Mainland who was thinking about coming home. All three brothers had experience in the hospitality industry. They did the numbers and decided to take on the business.

“We were very cautious coming in,” Cameron Hiro said. “We made sure we did our projections as best as we can. If it didn’t feel right, we weren’t going to go in.”

The restaurant will serve a mix of classic and local fare, said Woody Hiro, who will run the kitchen. Because the hotel is on the oceanfront, the family decided to go with a steak and seafood theme. Dishes will range from steak, chicken and fish entrees to pastas, sashimi and vegetable tempura, with desserts like flourless chocolate lava cake. Prices range from $10 to $15 for appetizers, $18 to $30 for entrees and $5 to $10 for dessert.

While some of the choice meats may have to come from off-island, “from produce to sea, we’ll try as much as we can to get from the locals,” Woody Hiro said.

Cameron Hiro described the restaurant as in between casual and fine dining. One of the fancier aspects includes wait staff bringing hot hand towels to the table before the meal. The restaurant will feature live music every evening.

Both Woody and Cameron Hiro have previously worked for Hotel Molokai. Cameron Hiro was executive chef at the hotel from 2000 to 2003, and his nephew held the same position from 2007 to 2012.

A 2001 Molokai High graduate, Woody Hiro attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland, Ore., and most recently worked at Fresh Catch on Oahu. Cameron Hiro, a 1979 Molokai High graduate, has experience in nearly a dozen different restaurants on Molokai and the Big Island and was executive chef for Molokai Ranch from 1997 to 2000.

The three brothers and partners, who’ve spent most of their lives in Maunaloa on Molokai’s west end, plan to keep their full-time jobs even with the opening of the restaurant. Pele is a resident manager of the Paniolo Hale Condominiums and part-owner of Maunaloa General Store, Raymond Hiro is the property manager for Molokai Properties Ltd. and Cameron Hiro is the pastor at Heart of Aloha Church.

Hiro’s Ohana Grill is the fourth restaurant in five years at the hotel, which suffered a major fire in 2012. Hula Shores restaurant and bar occupied the hotel until the fire destroyed the kitchen, laundry and storage rooms and caused an estimated $650,000 in damage in June 2012.

In April 2014, Maui-based business Tante’s Island Cuisine partnered with a Molokai family to manage the restaurant, The Molokai Dispatch reported at the time. However, hotel and restaurant management brought the deal to a mutual end in November 2014.

Hale Kealoha, run by siblings Tammy Smith and Kama Hoe, debuted in October 2015 but left earlier this year. In March, Drew declined to comment on Hale Kealoha’s closing.

Hiro’s Ohana Grill has the option of a 10-year lease, and Cameron Hiro said that the family will be there for the long haul. He hopes the restaurant will be good for the island, where jobs can be hard to come by. The Hiros expect to eventually employ about 35 people, a mixture of part- and full-time.

“I know it will be a great amenity for the hotel and the community,” Drew said in a news release. “I’ve worked (with) and known the family for over 10 years, and I’m looking forward to many more years of success together.”

Woody Hiro said he’s glad to bring his wife and four boys back home, where he can “say hi to every person you pass by” and escape the hectic life of Oahu. And, he’s happy to be working with his family.

“We all have our different ways of thinking, but overall we come together at the end,” he said.

The bar and restaurant will be open 6 to 9 p.m. every day. The family expects to add a light lunch period from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in a couple of weeks. They recommend making reservations at (808) 660-3400.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at