Anna Kim Photography

Farm-to-fork initiative #MauiEatLocal takes a fresh approach to eating responsibly.

Fast-food restaurants seem to be taking over Maui, and SONIC Drive-In is the latest addition to a growing list of mainland companies that have opened locations in the Valley Isle. This corporate expansion has been cause for concern amongst residents and players in the restaurant industry islandwide.

“If we are not careful as a community, we will end up just like the mainland,” said Brian Etheredge, chef-owner of Cutting Edge Catering, chef and co-owner of Wailuku’s newest eatery Tails Up Maui, and co-founder of the #MauiEatLocal initiative. “We will look like every single city in America with the same box stores, with the same fast-food restaurants on the corner of Columbus and Main Street.”

Dania Novack, co-founder of #MauiEatLocal and publisher of edible Hawaiian Islands Magazine, also witnessed these fast-food corporations moving in on an opportunity that the pandemic had presented — and it didn’t resonate with her.

Tails Up Maui co-owners Brian Etheredge and Chimo Shipp. Photo by Sean M Hower

“While we were home taking care of our families and our community, they swooped in and they opened,” Novack told MauiTimes. This set off an internal alarm that ignited her passion for educating the public about the detrimental effect that fast food has on consumers’ health and the local economy. 

One of her biggest concerns is that most of the revenue generated by Hawaiʻi franchises will ultimately leave the islands. This is paired with the knowledge that importing a majority of our community’s food supply is not a sustainable system.

Now, she’s working to build a reality where people can wake up in the morning and ride their bike to a locally owned coffee shop to purchase a Maui-grown coffee and tip the staff knowing that everything came from and will stay in the community.

“That money is staying here to buy a surf lesson for a local family or help buy a book for school,” Novack said. “… The money circulates locally instead of going back to the mainland where we don’t see it again.”

It was from this desire for a radical paradigm shift that #MauiEatLocal was born. The intention of this initiative is to encourage visitors and kamaʻāina to create a circular economy by supporting locals.

Maui Restaurateurs on a Mission

The #MauiEatLocal movement is helmed by Etheredge and Novack alongside vice president Jana McMahon of Maui Private Chef and treasurer Charlene Kaʻuhane, who serves as president of Kaʻuhane Inc., a public relations and marketing communications firm that specializes in tourism/hospitality and agriculture, as well as the organizer of Maui AgFest & 4-H Livestock Fair — a #MauiEatLocal partner.

The restaurants that have committed to the #MauiEatLocal mission have come together as a collective to pioneer a more sustainable system. The program launched with 24 participants, including Janice and Sheldon Simeon of Tin Roof, Lee Anne Wong of Papaʻāina, Paulina and Jeremy Solyn of NyloS, and various other renowned names in the Maui foodie scene. And there are plenty more eagerly awaiting admittance.

“It started with 24 of us. I got Sheldon Simeon, Lee Anne Wong, Jeff Shear [of Restaurant Marlow] — all the original gangsters are with me — and what happened was, overnight … there were 150 [other restaurants] that wanted to be part of it,” Etheredge said. “… We realized, oh wow, we nailed the pulse.”

The best-selling seafood tacos at Tails Up Maui. Photo by Sean M Hower

In order to qualify for the #MauiEatLocal program, businesses must be locally owned, source at least 40% of ingredients from local purveyors, and be willing to participate in social media campaigns while acting as a spokesperson and educator for the public.

Novack pointed to Papaʻāina’s Lee Anne Wong as an example of a chef who’s taking a conscious approach to their kitchen. “I would say a good 90% of her menu is locally sourced,” Novack said. “ … You go to the farmers market on Saturday [at] 5:30, 6 in the morning before the market opens, you’ll find Lee Anne there shopping for the restaurant.”

But even those who don’t meet the #MauiEatLocal criteria won’t automatically be turned away. While vetting these food establishments, Novack found that some of them needed to incorporate more locally sourced ingredients in order to qualify for the program.

“Instead of saying no, I said, ‘Can we help you?’ ” Novack recalled, noting that she hasn’t hesitated to do site-visits to evaluate inventory and provide recommendations for local suppliers. She noted that one chef she worked with was “open to it and they’re probably going to be joining [#MauiEatLocal in] June … because they’ve made huge strides and they’ve changed their sourcing.”

This proves that the initiative has already had a positive impact on local business practices, and beyond. Novack has also received interest from food-and-beverage personnel on other islands who want to start their own locally focused collectives.

And Etheredge is on board with leading by example.

“Being out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we could be the model of sustainability for the rest of the planet,” he mused while envisioning a self-sufficient future for our community.

Tails Up: Circularity on the Rise

Tails Up co-owner Chimo Shipp of Fresh Fish Maui. Photo by Sean M Hower

Etheredge’s latest venture, Tails Up Maui in Wailuku, is a seafood-centric dining establishment that’s a testament to the values that make up the core mission of #MauiEatLocal.

The award-winning chef’s menu features a colorful array of locally sourced ingredients including produce from Local Harvest, a supplier company that connects chefs with local farms, and daily catches from his co-owner Chimo Shipp, a born and raised Maui boy who runs his company, Fresh Fish Maui, out of a back room in the restaurant.

“We’re really trying to walk the talk. And it’s not easy — the profit margins are slim,” Etheredge said, noting that the incorporation of sustainable practices was always a part of their business model. 

In fact, for these co-owners, their partnership sprouted from literal compost.

“I saw that he had all these fish carcasses, and he was giving them to a farmer to make compost,” Etheredge said of Shipp. “And I’m like, … ‘Will you scrape that one? Wait, let me cook it and make a broth with it first.’ … So that’s really where it all started.”

Now that their shared space has come to fruition, the Tails Up Maui executive chef has plans to expand the fish-focused menu to be more inclusive for landlubbers. “The original idea was to bring in and buy whole lambs or whole cows … and then that cow is the [special for the] month of May. How many different ways can we use it?” Etheredge shared regarding his vision for the restaurant’s future.

Moving forward, Etheredge is committed to traversing this journey toward sustainability as a community and prepared to face the inherent obstacles along the way.

“Does it sound expensive to eat locally sourced ingredients? It does. But can we sit down at the table together, as a community, and figure it out? That’s all I want,” Etheredge said of his hope for the future of Maui’s food industry.

Follow the initiative on Instagram @mauieatlocal and check out the hashtags #MauiEatLocal, #SupportingLocalMaui and #MauiAg. 

Where to #MauiEatLocal

The people behind these Maui-based food-and-beverage companies have pledged to keep it local, so you can be confident that the food you choose to consume is helping to support the community.

Cutting Edge Catering – Brian Etheredge
372 Waiehu Beach Rd., Wailuku; 601-215-8879;

Maui Private Chef – Jana McMahon

Broth Café – Noah Schuster
340 Hāna Hwy., Kahului; 808-877-4950;

Healthy Maui Chef – Hilary Barsby

Tin Roof Maui – Janice and Sheldon Simeon
360 Papa Pl., Kahului; 808-868-0753;

FOND | A Neighborhood Eatery – Eliza Escaño and Jojo Vasquez
5095 Nāpilihau St., Nāpili; 808-856-0225;

Maui Fresh Streatery – Kyle Kawakami
21 Laʻa St., Kahului; 808-344-7929; @mauifreshstreatery

Havens – Katie-Belle Ely and Zach Sato
591 Haleakalā Hwy., Kahului; 808-868-0555 & 30 Manaʻo Kālā St., Kīhei; 808-868-2600;

Papa’āina – Lee Anne Wong
658 Wharf St., Lāhainā; 808-661-3636;

Fork & Salad – Travis Morrin
120 Hoʻokele St., Kahului; 808-793-3256 & 1279 S. Kīhei Rd., Kīhei; 808-879-3675;

Kamado Maui – Natasha Joslin and Taylor Ponte
3674 Baldwin Ave., Makawao; 808-281-7979;

Pacific’o on the Beach – Isaac Bancaco
505 Front St., Lāhainā; 808-667-4341;

Sale Pepe Pizzeria e Cucina – Qiana and Michele Di Bari
878 Front St., Lāhainā; 808-667-7667;

SixtyTwo MarcKet – Yvonne and Marc McDowell
62 N. Market St., Wailuku; 808-793-2277;

Shikeda Bento Patisserie – Sean Ikeda
2050 Main St., Wailuku; 808-500-2556;

RJ Gourmet Maui – Rob Mason

Joy’s Place LIVE! – Joy White
81 Makawao Ave., Makawao; 808-572-2186;

Umi Sushi Maui – Jayse Sato
1951 E. Vineyard St., Wailuku; 808-633-2502;

Kitoko Maui – Cole Hinueber
35 Auhana Rd., Kīhei; 808-214-7582; @kitokomaui

Joey’s Kitchen – Joey Macadangdang
2435 Kāʻanapali Pkwy., Kāʻanapali; 808-868-4474 & 5095 Nāpilihau St., Nāpili; 808-214-5590;

NyloS Restaurant – Paulina and Jeremy Solyn
115 Baldwin Ave., Pāʻia; 808-579-3354;

Restaurant Marlow – Kaili and Jeff Scheer
30 Kūpaoa St., Pukalani; 808-868-3366;

Star Noodle – Nicky Boskoff
1285 Front St., Lāhainā; 808-667-5400;