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Iconic Charley’s shutters saloon doors for good

North Shore venue famous for music, food over a half century

Haiku resident Jack Graff holds a cement cowboy boot used as a planter he bought from Charley’s for $50 Thursday morning. He also bought a cement hat. The Maui News / MATHEW THAYER photos

PAIA — World-class Maui musicians Willie K and Lukas Nelson. Rock, folk, pop and country greats including David Crosby, Leon Russell and Roy Rogers. International and nationally renowned DJs. Local performers such as Mark Johnstone.

Of all people to come through Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon in Paia — an iconic food and entertainment venue for a half-century — owner Jonathan Herman said he will miss the employees the most.

“The employees are the heart and soul of Charley’s,” he said Thursday.

Herman announced via social media Wednesday that the restaurant, which has been closed since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, will shutter its doors for good. Charley’s and its landlord failed to reach an agreement over building repairs, and Charley’s has been asked to vacate by Saturday, he said.

Haiku resident Jack Graff said Charley’s is the “nostalgia of the North Shore.”

With so many memories in the air, shoppers sort through items for sale at Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon Thursday morning in Paia.

Food was a big deal, he said. In the ’80s, Graff and friends would go from Baldwin Beach to Charley’s to share a “super large pizza” for only $5.

Music at Charley’s was even bigger. When it came to famous or up-and-coming musicians taking the stage last-minute (often sneaking through the side saloon doors), the coconut wireless would be humming.

“You would keep your ear to the ground,” Graff said. “All of a sudden you’d get a call from a friend saying, ‘Hey, go in Thursday.’ You would just know something was happening. You’d belly up to the bar and order some food, or get a table and invite your friends down.”

Graff said it was the best place on the island to catch Willie K shows. One big performance was Neil Young and Lukas Nelson, who played together for environmental awareness when Nelson was just starting out. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith could be found sitting in a booth on any given night.

The longtime patron said he knew of Charley’s challenges over recent years and that a possible acquisition fell through. While the closure didn’t surprise Graff, he said it’s sad to know things will never be the same.

Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon owner Jonathan Herman talks with well-wishers Thursday.

“It’s another sad part of me watching this island change,” he said. “It was a critical part of the North Shore and the island flavor here.”

Named after the owner’s Great Dane, Charley’s was started in 1969 as a fresh fruit juice stand on Front Street in Lahaina by Jim Fuller. In 1972, Fuller moved to 142 Hana Highway, Paia, and opened Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon, which became known for its hearty breakfast, after-hours music scene and, of course Charley, who was often seen cruising the venue or the North Shore town.

Herman said that Fuller ran the business for 43 years. Several people had tried to buy Charley’s over the years, but Fuller finally settled on Herman, who had grown up on Maui and had long patronized the venue.

Herman and Fuller would go to lunch once or twice a week at Mama’s Fish House and talk about the history and stories of Charley’s.

“So I said, ‘Let’s work out a way to keep Charley’s Charley’s, to honor the legacy, to honor the history, but to try to build something better,’ “ said Herman.

Kahului restaurant owners Bernard Weber (right) of Brigit and Bernard’s Garden Cafe and Sandy Szymanski of Marco’s Grill & Deli load supplies they purchased into the back of a car Thursday at Charley’s.

On busy days, Charley’s would run breakfast, lunch, dinner, music and entertainment until 1 or 2 in the morning. Night staff would leave work by 3 or 3:30 a.m., and the breakfast workers would come in an hour and a half later at 5 a.m. to start prepping the kitchen.

“The only way this all works is with an incredible group — and the family, the ohana, that we’ve built here — that’s the most memorable to me,” Herman said. “Those relationships, those people, the community, the regulars, the people we see here every day, the people who came back on vacations, the people that are hardcore music fanatics and show up to this show or that show or every show, those are the most memorable Charley’s events for me.”

When Charley’s closed March 17, 2020, due to mandatory pandemic shutdowns, it had 35 full-time workers and another 10 or so part-timers.

Herman was in work clothes with a handful of volunteers Thursday. They were boxing up memorabilia to save, moving dishes and clearing dusty tables and other furniture. Marco’s Grill & Deli owners came by to pick up some glasses and other items.

“Jim Fuller, the founder of Charley’s, passed away in February of this year,” Herman said Thursday evening. “He always said that Charley’s was like his wife. It’s romantic and fitting in a way that both would go to sleep in the same year.”

An email request for comment from landowners James P. Argyropoulos and Jonathan Condos was not immediately returned Thursday.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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