Only a handful of Maui restaurants can brag about thriving 30 years or more in our tough-as-nails business climate. The Waterfront is one of them - and to this day it remains a big fish in Maui waters with too many awards under its belt to mention here.
"It's monumental that any Maui restaurant can still thrive and survive after 30 years," says partner Gary Smith, who took over ownership of the bastion of fine dining almost 20 years ago along with his mom, Donna Smith, and brother, Rick Smith.
To celebrate, the Smiths are for a limited time, offering a 30th anniversary special of two-for-one entrees (the second one must be of equal or lesser value).
Gary Smith is part of the family that owns and
operates the famous Maalaea restaurant. He’s standing on the beach (from left) in front of the shady lanai with longtime Executive Chef Bobby Cambra and partners, mom Donna Smith, and younger brother, Rick Smith. Over the years, the Waterfront has been awarded Best Service, Best Seafood, Best Wine List and Best Restaurant on Maui multiple times in local publications.
So come on down and celebrate. It's affordable enough that you don't need a special occasion to enjoy the five to eight different types of fresh catch nightly, prepared in nine various styles.
But it wasn't always so accessible. The Waterfront started out in 1979 as a hoity-toity French restaurant by legendary Maui restaurateur and chef Heinz Gerner and his pal Harry Nitzsche.
Back then, Gary was a low-level employee in food and beverage at the Hyatt in Kaanapali, and he lived in a condo across from the Waterfront's kitchen door, from where the aromas enticed him.
Waterfront at a glimpse:
Where: Situated oceanfront and garden level on Maalaea Harbor at 50 Hauoli St. Dine on the lanai with views of boats or inside for romantic privacy in one of the cushy booths.
Hours: Open daily from 5 p.m. until closing.
Anniversary special: For a limited time only, buy two entrees for the price of one all night long. The second must be of equal or lesser value than the first one.
Menu highlights: Caesar salad for two tossed tableside, lobster chowder, fresh onaga baked with crabmeat, fresh lehi en Bastille, pork Osso Buco, roasted rack of lamb, and award-winning white-chocolate blueberry cheesecake.
For reservations: Call Waterfront at 244-9028.
"I couldn't afford a whole meal there back then," Gary says. "So we'd have cocktails and pupu in the condo, go over there for entrees and come home for dessert. I still have the original menu with steak Diane, crepes Suzette and baked Alaska."
After Gary moved up the management ladder, Heinz said Gary should take a look to buy it. He saw three whales breaching offshore and said, "perfect!"
The Waterfront also had a central water fountain that looked like a nymph that "sounded like someone taking a pee." It also featured booth 14 in the far corner of the dining room, obscured for the utmost in privacy, and another that faced the kitchen door.
"We opened it up and made it more airy. The lanai didn't have an awning. When it rained, the umbrellas covered the guests, but the waiters got soaked. They'd have to make a mad dash to the tables with the food."
Maui attorney Bill Crockett grew up on the beachfront property and when he saw it developed into a condominium, he ensured a commercial space for a restaurant, only it was supposed to be on the fourth floor.
"We're glad it's ocean level," says Gary. "People can be dining on the lanai and their kids can be right outside playing on the beach. It's great."
In fact, the Waterfront boasts such a premium spot for viewing surf action at the famed Freight Trains, that too many people called for updates.
"So we put in a Web cam and you can go online at our site, www.waterfrontmaui.com to see how the waves and wind are doing.You can also check out the entire menu and prices as well as the wine list that way.
Many of the veteran waiters have been there for decades, delivering top-of-the-line service, with a smile, while wearing cumberbunds and bow ties. "It's great, except we're all getting grayer," says Gary. "Don't worry. We'll be here for another 50 years," chimes in Donna Smith, who regulars all call "Mom." "That'll make Gary 103!"