Cafe O'Lei in Wailuku will be closing next month ending a five-year run as a weekday lunch hot spot in town.
General Manager Napa Recopuerto said Tuesday that it was a business decision to close the restaurant because its lease is up at the end of October. The restaurant's last day will be Oct. 12.
"I want to thank all of Maui, especially Wailuku town," Recopuerto said. "It's been a great adventure up there in Wailuku. We are going to miss everybody."
Life goes on inside and outside the windows of Wailuku’s Cafe O’Lei restaurant on Market Street on Tuesday afternoon. Seated in the window table are Heather McComas (clockwise from front left), Shari Volk, Carrie Czarnecki and Jessy Scanfienza. Cafe O’Lei in Wailuku will be closing next month after five years at that location.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Recopuerto said the restaurant operators do not have any plans to open up another eatery in Wailuku.
But he added that with restaurant owners Michael and Dana Pastula, "you never know where we are going to pop up."
In recent years, Cafe O'Lei restaurants have sprung up all over the island. Recently Cafe O'Lei took over the Makawao Steak House and has retained the same name. Cafe O'Lei is keeping that restaurant's steakhouse theme.
Cafe O'Lei will try to disperse all of the Wailuku restaurant's 10 to 15 workers to other restaurants, Recopuerto said, adding that some members of the Wailuku staff already are working at other Cafe O'Lei locations.
Fellow Market Street merchants Richard Dan, owner of five stores including pawn shops and Kama'aina Loan in the area, and jeweler Gary Mukai hope that another restaurant could take Cafe O'Lei's place.
"A restaurant should be there," Dan said. "Market Street could use another restaurant."
He added that workers from the state and county buildings come down to Cafe O'Lei for lunch.
Mukai agreed and suggested that new graduates from University of Hawaii Maui College's culinary program could have a restaurant there to gain more experience.
Susie Thieman, interim executive director of Lokahi Pacific, which owns the building that the cafe is leasing part of, said that "definitely we would like to keep it a restaurant. No question about it."
"It's just finding the right person. It's basically a lunchtime venue," she added.
Thieman said Lokahi was never proposing to raise the rent on the cafe.
"We just love having them there. They have been super great tenants," she said.
Commercial Properties of Maui is working on getting a new tenant, she added.
As for the pulse of Wailuku town, Dan, a longtime merchant, said: "Market Street has had a lot less difficulty than most areas of the island through the recession. It has recovered well."
Dan said Market Street storefronts from Main Street to Vineyard Street are full.
But he admitted that further down Market Street from Vineyard heading toward Happy Valley is "empties land" with fewer occupants.
Most of Market Street has held on through the recession as it is occupied by banks and his pawn shops and second-hand shops that have done well, because people now are "smarter" when they buy things, Dan said.
So customers are looking for deals and head into his shops, he said.
Mukai, owner of Precision Goldsmiths, said businesses in the area are "still on a recovery trend."
"But (for) my business, I'm doing OK because I have a lot of local support," he said.
Mukai, who does custom jewelry design, said things are slowly improving.
Like many other merchants he says parking is still an issue.
As far as other tenants in the area he said many have moved to other areas in Wailuku, such as Emura's Trophies & Awards, which moved from Market Street to Waiale Road, and Native Intelligence, which moved from Market to Main Street.
"I don't want to sugar-coat things. It's still tough," Mukai said.
But both Mukai and Dan agree that the Wailuku First Friday events - during which Market Street is shut down to allow for vendors and entertainment - have boosted Wailuku's visibility and have helped market the town.
"I think First Friday has brought a resurgence of energy and interest," Mukai said.
Dan said that although First Friday brings "not much" money for his businesses, "it's free advertising."
"To me, First Friday is as valuable as a full page (advertisement) in The Maui News," he said.
Dan has vendor booths selling his pawn shop's inventory and several of his stores are also open during the First Friday events.
A manager for Cafe O'Lei, Edlynn Kaupe, said that the Wailuku location will be open for dinner at next month's First Friday event on Oct. 5 so people can stop by one last time for dinner.
Recopuerto said that the popular Asian marinaded top sirloin with shiitake mushroom cream sauce is currently only on the Wailuku menu.
"(But) we might have to change that now," he added.
He said people can also head to the restaurant's other five locations for meals as well.
Cafe O'Lei is in Kihei and Napili and at the Dunes at Maui Lani, Waiehu Golf Course and Makawao Steak House.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.