Food trucks affected in Lahaina wildfires resurface in Maikaʻi Market grand opening

Listen to this Article
5 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

Maika’i Market grand opening on Saturday, March 30, 2024. PC: JD Pells

This past Saturday, proprietors of five distinct food trucks commemorated the bittersweet grand opening of their new home, Maikaʻi Market, in Kahului.

Two had lost the location of their operations to the Aug. 8 wildfires in Lahaina, while the three others lost almost everything.

Among the owners is Dalilha “Dee” Rodrigues. Back in 2018, Rodrigues started selling one of her favorite treats, the rare and crispy delicacy known as poi mochi.

The idea came to her as a pregnancy craving. She wasn’t sure how big it would get.

At that time, she’d pop up only for the weekend and use the profits to help her family and friends pay for electricity bills and, in one case, to pay for a friend’s wedding dress.


A loyal customer base helped her to justify opening the food truck, Dee’s Poi Mochi, full time at Anchor Square in the heart of her hometown in 2021.

Then, a breathless five days after Aug. 8, 2023, Rodrigues got confirmation that her under-insured trailer was destroyed in the devastating fire storm.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t know where to start,” said Rodrigues. “We actually found out our home was gone before we found out that the trailer was gone, and I wasn’t even thinking about reopening.”

Two weeks later, good karma came knocking when Rodrigues received a call from one of her regulars.

“For years, I never knew his name, but we joked all the time through the window,” said Rodrigues. “He called me after the fires and was like, ‘Hey, I work for this company. I know you’ve been through a lot. I’m glad that you’re okay. Would you be willing to meet with me? I have a way to help.'”


This customer is Barry Henry, a longtime fan of Dee’s Poi Mochi, who works as a consultant for Cook Solutions Group (CSG), a Portland-based technology and security company. Henry pitched the idea of reviving her small business. The call to action that made its way to the highest ranks of CSG and yielded Dee’s Poi Mochi a second chance.

In return, CSG Chief Executive Officer Brian Cook asked for nothing besides a sample of some poi mochi from the new and improved trailer.

  • Dee, owner of Dee’s Poi Mochi. PC: JD Pells
  • Dee mixes a special batch of poi mochi. PC: JD Pells
  • Deep fried poi mochi balls. PC: JD Pells
  • Dee’s Poi Mochi. PC: JD Pells
  • Dee’s Poi Mochi truck at Maika’i Market. PC: JD Pells

While the truck looks different, Dee’s Poi Mochi is the same on the inside. Notably, the poi mochi is still made by Rodrigues and her family using the same recipe. Rodrigues said it was important they stay true to their way of cooking, especially during the difficult time.

“We’ve been in this industry for so long that we can tell is if there’s love in the food,” said Rodrigues. “This is our baby, and we love her with everything. So you could definitely taste it and feel it when you walk up to our window.”

Dee’s Poi Mochi is one of five trucks at the Maikaʻi Market that continues to be affected in the wake of the 2023 Lahaina wildfires.


Rodrigues said the trucks lost everything, but they’re still here, and are still fighting. “Maui Strong is all about resilience. We’ve been blessed 100 times over. There’s so many people to thank,” she said.

“Just come down to Maikaʻi Market, you’ll see it. You look at the faces of people who lost everything, but who [are] still pushing everyday.”

Dalilha “Dee” Rodrigues, owner of Dee’s Poi Mochi

Bangkok Modern Thai owner Duangjai Phaensanthia was a manager of a restaurant in Lahaina.

After losing her livelihood to the fires, she went job hunting until something unexpected happened. Phaensanthia said a friend reached out to ask if she wanted to buy a food truck. Seeing it as a fresh start, Phaensanthia took the deal and opened a Thai food truck this past December, alongside one of the chefs from the lost Lahaina restaurant.

“Everyday you have to keep going, and you cannot look back,” said Phaensanthia.

Another food truck, Aloha Made Shave Ice Co., lost its intended location in the fires. Despite being a displaced victim of the Lahaina wildfire, co-owner Ellie Miller has been operating the truck in Kahului for about a month.

Miller said they expected to open their truck on Lahainaluna Road by July 1, 2023, but it never happened due to delays with permitting.

Similarly, the Tokkai Pacific Rim and Sushi truck was intended to be in Lahaina, but with the trailer still on order when the fire happened, the owners had been fortunate for the delay.

“I feel like that was kind of a God thing,” Miller said. “This is a new journey, starting over.”

West Side Boba truck has also made a return to business. Owners Jay and Katrina Leyva tragically lost their home and trailer to the fire storm and have since relocated to Central Maui.

Maikaʻi Market

Acting as the vessel for these refueled businesses is Maikaʻi Market. The market was founded by a born-and-raised Molokaʻi entrepreneur, Starlet “Star” Joao, and her husband, Clint.

Having grown up in a family-run catering business and having sold Molokaʻi hot bread on Lahainaluna Road for many years, Star has always had a close connection to food and place.

So when, amidst the chaos following the wildfires, a heartfelt request came to to help cook for hundreds of first responders and displaced families at West Maui homestead community, Leiali’i, she and her husband did their part.

Little did they know that they were helping to feed the family of co-owner of Aloha Made Shave Ice Co., Ellie Miller.

“I’m going to cry talking about it. It’s really special. I didn’t know, but they remembered me while we were there in that neighborhood in Leiali’i,” said Star. “I remember [Ellie] told me every time there was a dinner that they saw us.”

Star and Clint had a vision for Maikaʻi Market and the Simply Local store many years ago, Clint having come up with the name for Simply Local in high school.

Before the fires, Clint and Star already had the property on which Maikaʻi Market stands today, but a whole different team of food trucks were on the lot. Inexplicably, Star said the original food trucks one-by-one departed and opened the space for a new team of food trucks.

  • Storefront for Simply Local at the newly-opened Maika’i Market. PC: JD Pells
  • Simply Local store. PC: JD Pells
  • Property manager and store co-owner Starlet “Star” Joao (pictured far right). PC: JD Pells
  • The Simply Local store at newly-opened Maika’i Market in Kahului features products from Maui and Molokai vendors. PC: JD Pells
  • Customers enjoy provisions of Maika’i Market during its grand opening event on Saturday. PC: JD Pells
  • Tokkai Pacific Rim & Sushi truck. PC: JD Pells
  • West Side Boba truck. PC: JD Pells

Today, the Maikaʻi Market harbors two kinds of businesses: food and retail.

From its T-shirts down to its stickers, the retail store, Simply Local, sells products made by individual vendors based on Maui and Molokaʻi.

Inside the store, Star also continues to sell Molokaʻi hot bread, modeled after the legendary Kanemitsu Bakery. Molokaʻi “hot bread” itself has a special connection to Lahaina.

Since 1935, Lahaina has served as the main port of arrival for Molokaʻi to share its bread with neighboring Maui. “It’s kind of like a sister town to Molokaʻi,” Star said.

The wildfires had a major impact on her bread sales. She said the Maikaʻi Market allows her to continue to sell the specialty to Maui customers, as she has done for many years.

Looking forward

Residents and visitors are invited to come explore the various offerings at Maikaʻi Market, located at 73 Puʻunēnē Ave. in Kahului.

All of the profits from “Maui Nō Ka ʻOi” products made by Aloha Ke Akua Clothing Co. go toward the building of homes for the people of Lahaina.

Star says there is more to come this month, including another food truck, Kusina Nijayboy, whose owner is a wildfire survivor.

JD Pells
JD is a news reporter for Maui Now. He has contributed stories to TCU 360, Fort Worth Report and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. JD interned at Maui Now in 2021. He graduated from the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University, with a bachelor's in journalism and business in 2022, before coming back home to Maui with the purpose of serving his community. He can be reached at [email protected].
Read Full Bio

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Maui Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments