History & Happy Hour at Hali‘imaile General Store
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The big building along Hali‘imaile Road across from the park has been a fixture in the community for more than 85 years. Built in 1929, Hali‘imaile General Store was, in fact, just that: the pineapple camp store, providing pretty much whatever workers needed, from clothing to paper towels to freshly-butchered meat.
“They all had tokens with numbers on them and they never really had to exchange money; they just gave their token number and it came out of their paycheck,” explains chef Beverly Gannon, who took over the building in 1987. She kept the name the same, and started preparing the space to serve as a gourmet take-out deli shop for her catering company.
Being a take-out place, there didn’t seem to be a need for many tables. She set up 30 of them, along with all kinds of deli cases and an employee to direct customers to order at the counter.
But the people had apparently decided on something else. When the doors opened in 1988, around 150 people walked in to have dinner. Not take-out. They wanted to sit down and eat. They wanted a restaurant. Gannon says that’s something she knew next to nothing about, since she had never worked in a restaurant.
“When all those people walked in that day with 30 seats, thank goodness I had two guys who worked for me who had worked in a restaurant kitchen,” she says, remembering that the next day, several customers became new hires. “I had two people get out of their seats and say, ‘I am a waiter; you need to give me a pad and pencil — you are dying here!’ And one of them was a waitress for me for 14 years.”
So yes, the people had decided. And Gannon knew it was important to listen to the people — so she transformed her take-out deli into a sit-down restaurant. She recalls their first holiday season was a star-studded event, thanks to her husband Joe Gannon’s connections to the entertainment industry.
“That first Christmas we had Rob Lowe, Sly Stallone, the head of every major studio in Hollywood, directors, and they’re coming in and I really barely had a clue,” says Gannon. “But it was an exciting, new thing here back in those days. In the late 80’s, there weren’t a lot of new restaurants opening up.”
I was no celebrity: I was a tween at that time, and I still remember where I sat with my parents in that new restaurant, and what I ordered: the chopped Chinese chicken salad. 28 years later, I got to order it again. Still epic.
“Beverly has had a lot of her signature favorites on the menu since she started, and it would be impossible for me to take any of those off the menu! She let us take 10, 15% off the lunch menu and change them around, and it’s been a good fit because she enjoys them,” explains Marc McDowell, executive chef of Hali‘imaile General Store and Celebrations Catering, the longest-running catering operation on Maui. McDowell spent decades as a corporate resort chef before delving into a different world — private restaurants.
“Working for good owners is a key for that,” he emphasizes. “Working with Beverly Gannon, she understands the importance of buying local, having good relationships with all the farms and meat providers, the fishermen. What I care about is fresh; fresh products in, fresh products out, so the guest is happy.”
McDowell compliments Gannon’s “fantastic palate” and flair for presentation on the plate. He’s also very proud of his cohesive and creative kitchen team, saying they learn from each other.
“If you can trust and feel like you’re giving, and you see them teaching somebody the way you taught them, it really is full circle,” says McDowell.
Although, he adds, that’s a lesson he didn’t immediately understand when starting in the industry here.
“Coming out of Culinary Institute of America in New York, thinking that I knew it all, I learned very quickly the Aloha spirit, and the importance of building good relationships,” McDowell explains.
“I’m here to inspire them, because I want them to all be executive chefs. It’s my duty to teach them what they don’t know and I want them to learn and grow, because they are the future and if they can use fresh vegetables from our friends all over the island, then they understand.”
The kitchen is sourcing much of its produce from an impressive “secret farm” upcountry, and Gannon is building up her own home garden as well.
Executive sous chef Adrian Solorzano appreciates the bounty of fresh, quality ingredients, from vegetables to meat to fish. He started with the company as a line cook at age 20, and over the last seven years, has evolved his talents between Joe’s, Gannon’s and Hali‘imaile. He wants customers to “be amazed at all the food we put our heart and soul into,” and says the kitchen crew really knows how to work together, even during the hectic times.
“All the different chefs, the crazy nights, busy nights,” he smiles. “There’s always something going on with her so that’s awesome; always throws a curveball in there, teaches you how to handle it.”
Along with the restaurant kitchen itself, which was recently renovated for the first time in 25 years, Gannon says this is the strongest kitchen team she’s had in two decades; they’re proactive in making new things happen, like wine dinners, a prime rib night, kama’aina specials, outside seating and pop-up dining events (like an August Smoke & Spice BBQ that drew in 110 people).
The restaurant is also introducing something it’s never had before: happy hour. Running Monday through Friday from 3 to 5:30 p.m., the happy hour menu features gourmet tacos, sliders, pita pies and more for between $7 and $10.
Happy hour highlights include Bev’s famous crab pizza, Ahi tartare and smoked salmon tacos, tandoori lamb sliders and caprese pita pies with house-pulled mozarella. As for drinks, there are $4 Maui Brewing Co, beers, $6 wines by the glass, $5 well drinks and $8 cocktails.
“Why not start a little happy hour and give upcountry another option for going and getting some less expensive deals,” Gannon says, “The key is I now have management and kitchen that if I say, ‘Let’s do this,’ they get 100% behind it.”
October 14 will mark 29 years since Bev and Joe Gannon took over the building that was, and remains, Hali‘imaile General Store. How to sum it up?
“It’s been a trip,” says smiles.
A trip that’s lasted through recessions, growth, development, road work, renovations, classic favorites and changing trends, in a building that will hopefully be part of Hali‘imaile’s foundation for many more decades to come.