Aloha Mixed Plate: Born to Mix it Up
By Kiaora Bohlool
Aloha Mixed Plate didn’t come into this world as a restaurant. It was initially created as the kitchen and bar for one of Maui’s most popular and historic attractions.
“The company started out as just Old Lahaina Lūʻau in 1986 down at at 505 Front Street,” explains marketing director Sara Jordan-Polk with parent company, Nā Hoaloha ʻEkolu. “When they moved the location to Moaliʻi where it currently resides, they needed a kitchen, but they also needed to have a liquor license while they were operating, and that’s how Aloha Mixed Plate was born.”
That baby grew and thrived, nourished by its authentic concept of the “mixed plate,” harkening back to the plantation days, where locals of different ethnic groups sat down together and shared food from their cultures. Japanese katsu chicken here, Hawaiian Kalua pig there, Korean kimchi in this corner, sticky rice as the staple, and so on.
“The Kalua pig, I love that. I love the laulau, I love the poi. We grow the kalo ourselves and make the poi ourselves so it’s really, really fresh,” says Food and Beverage Director Aaron Trujillo, describing some of his favorites. “I also like the Aloha Mixed Plate, ’cause it really offers some great fresh fish with teri beef and shoyu chicken, of course with two scoops of rice and mac salad.”
Known as a place “where paper plate meets beachside dining,” the restaurant at the west end of Front Street grew in popularity to the point where the Old Lahaina Lūʻau kitchen moved elsewhere (now near their sister-restaurant, Star Noodle). Aloha Mixed Plate expanded to serve breakfast from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., followed by lunch and dinner until 10:00 p.m., seven days a week.
“Aloha Mixed Plate started out as a local restaurant. As our waits got a little bit longer, the locals tend to do takeout, except when they have family in town, then a lot of them tend to come in for dinner that way,” says Trujillo.
The restaurant is now almost 20 years old. And it seems to have sailed through the troublesome teenage years. Other than the now-expected wait times, the biggest issue for this outdoor restaurant looks to be one nobody but Mother Nature can control, along with umbrellas that work better for shade than for rain.
“As everybody on Maui and in Hawaiʻi knows, this past year was filled with some weather, so for sure, we run into some challenges when it rains,” Trujillo explains. “We just try to keep a smile on and do the best we can with the guests that we have seated. And hopefully the food will kinda pull ‘em through the rain.”
The business forecast remains bright for Aloha Mixed Plate. Its parent company, Nā Hoaloha ʻEkolu, owns not only the Old Lahaina Lūʻau, but also the wildly successful Star Noodle restaurant in Lahaina. You could call it the golden child of the group, opening in 2010 as a dinner-only noodle house. Now Star Noodle is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and recently made itself available for online reservations on Open Table, to help manage the consistent rush of hungry customers.
“I think the owners of the company have a passion for hospitality; they’re not necessarily restaurant people but they do like to eat good food,” says Jordan-Polk. “They travel all over the world, so I think they saw a void that could be filled in Lahaina town with a noodle house, and that’s how Star Noodle was essentially born.”
Other siblings have been added to the family: Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop opened four years ago in Olowalu. The Hoaloha Bake Shop makes noodles, desserts and breads for the restaurants, and Hoaloha Farms grow six varieties of heirloom kalo used for poi, laulau and taro chips.
“They have one baby and they let it grow a little bit, and they kinda figure it out, then they move onto something new. I think we’re kind of in a phase of tweaking everything still, making sure everything is 100% where we want it to be.” Jordan-Polk says locals have been open to the different food concepts the company has shared. “I think Maui is ready for that, and we’ve been really lucky to have their support and their attention to our outlets. So that’s why it always starts with the local community first.”
And community isn’t an empty concept with this group. A server at Aloha Mixed Plate, among 400 employees within the company, told us owners not only know her name, but also remember to ask about her daughter, and don’t hesitate to support school events. Trujillo echoes the sentiment, saying Nā Hoaloha ʻEkolu is actively involved in fundraisers, cultural awareness and local causes. There’s even a donation request form for non-profits on the Aloha Mixed Plate website.
“I just think of what high regard they hold the Hawaiian culture in,” says Trujillo, describing why he’s proud to work for the group. “Giving back to the community and the kupuna and the keiki is really super important to how we operate. If it’s just monies that we can help donate, or shoyu chicken bentos that we can provide for kids…pretty much whatever people need, we try to provide.”
As for Aloha Mixed Plate, the company’s goal is simple: keep this baby learning and growing, well into ripe old age.
“We just want to make sure we can continue to take care of our customers as we have in the past,” Trujillo explains. “As customers’ perspectives and appreciation change, we want to stay ahead of those curves, to make sure they can continue to appreciate us long into the future.”