Helping the Small Businesses of Lahaina and Maui Affected by the Fires

If you’ve ever been to Maui, you probably have a treasured memory from a restaurant, hotel or activity. And in the wake of the terrible fires that destroyed most of Lahaina and cut a swath through upcountry Kula, you may be wondering how to help those who helped make your memories.

The people of Maui and neighboring islands were the first to jump in to help with delivering supplies, coordinating donations and comforting the victims, and continue to do so. Fundraising by the major on-the-ground nonprofits — the Maui Strong fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, the Kāko‘o Maui fund of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, the Maui Fire Relief Fund of Maui United Way and American Red Cross, among them — has also brought in more than $74 million in donations and matching funds. They’ll need much more in the months and years to come, too.

You can also give directly to many of the workers and small business owners in the travel industry who were deprived of their homes and livelihoods by the fires. Here are options from some of the top providers of ho‘okipa (hospitality).

Helping restaurant workers

TS Restaurants, which saw its original restaurant on Front Street, Kimo’s, burn down on August 8, reports that more than 100 employees have lost homes, some have lost family members “and all have been impacted in some way.” The restaurateur has temporarily turned its Ka‘anapali restaurants — Duke’s Beach House, Leilani’s on the Beach and Hula Grill — into relief centers and has also partnered with Maui Brewing Company to distribute grants to their combined 800-plus workforce through the nonprofit T S Legacy of Aloha Foundation.

“The foundation has no overhead, no red tape and we can issue grants directly to employees who have lost homes or been displaced,” T S Restaurants announced via social media. Any leftover funds will be distributed to an accredited nonprofit on Maui involved with disaster relief.

Maui Brewing Company, which currently has limited hours at its Kahana restaurant and converted its brand-new Kaanapali location into a community kitchen, is also accepting in-kind donations such as baby items and batteries at its Kihei brewpub. The company has launched the Maui Brewing Co. Fire Fund through the nonprofit Global Empowerment Mission, which will benefit Maui fire relief in general, and is donating proceeds from the sale of a new beer, Kokua (“help”), to relief as well. Other craft brewers across the country will also brew Kokua beer with the same recipe to raise money for Maui aid.

A week after the fires began on Aug. 8, Merriman’s Kapalua and Monkeypod Kitchen, its sister restaurant in Ka‘anapali, were serving 1,000 free hot meals a day, with free satellite Wi-Fi at the  Kapalua site. Donations to the Merriman’s Culinary Scholarship Fund, which normally pays tuition to culinary school for Hawaii residents who need it, are now being directed for the next six months to employees who lost their homes and to the free meal program.

At least three dozen other restaurants and dining outlets have set up GoFundMe accounts or their employees, listed here. In a welcome serving of  good news, the GoFundMe drive for the 298 employees of Old Lahaina Luau, Star Noodle and Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop — including 131 who lost their homes in the fire, and others whose jobs disappeared with the immolation of the luau building and Star Noodle  — had exceeded its goal of $500,00 by Aug. 21. The organizers planned to distribute funds on Aug. 23 and have asked that well-wishers donate to other community fundraisers.

Helping hotel staff

At the time of the fire, Outrigger Resorts & Hotels had just acquired two hotels in West Maui (including the former Ka‘anapali Beach Resort) and was managing vacation condos in seven resorts in West and South Maui. The fire destroyed  Outrigger’s 18-room Plantation Inn and all the condos in the Aina Nalu complex in Lahaina, while other Outrigger-managed units in West Maui are temporarily serving as emergency housing for displaced employees. Former guests can help by contributing to the OutriggerCares Foundation’s Maui Host Relief Fund, which offers  “crucial financial relief and aid in the recovery of our employees directly impacted by the heart-wrenching wildfires on Maui,” the company notes.

Aqua-Aston Hospitality, which manages vacation condos in seven complexes in South and West Maui,  and its parent company, Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation (MVW), estimate that several hundred employees on Maui and their families have sustained significant damage or outright loss of their homes and belongings. In addition to providing temporary housing, food and other emergency supplies, MVW has donated $250,000 to its Company Relief Fund and will match up to another $250,000 for any donations made between Aug. 9 and Sept. 15. “We all know that the needs of today will be different tomorrow as the community rebuilds,” MVW says on its donation page. “However, by contributing to this fund, you are helping associates across (the) Marriott Vacation Clubs, Hyatt Vacation Ownership and Aqua-Aston businesses in Maui build back following the wildfires.”

Overlooking Lahaina Harbor since 1901, the landmark Pioneer Inn was the oldest hotel on Maui and the site of Top Chef LeAnne Wong’s popular Papa’Aina Maui restaurant before the fire reduced it to rubble. The inn’s website notes that “a friend” has started a GoFundMe page for its staff, many of whom have worked there for decades. While they were able to evacuate safely with guests and the hotel’s renowned parrot, Alex, most of the 50 members of the staff lost their homes and possessions, according to organizer Kitty Wilde. She has set a goal of $50,000 to distribute to them. (Note: This is in addition to a separate GoFundMe account for employees of both the restaurant and hotel, organized by Patrick Salmon with a goal of $225,000.)

Although not in the immediate fire zone, Montage Kapalua Bay  has set up a nonprofit fund to benefit its affected employees, while Royal Lahaina Resort in Ka‘anapali has created the Love Maui fund for relief efforts in the wider community.

Helping activity providers

The much-beloved Feast at Lele, a romantic beachfront luau hidden behind a retail complex on Lahaina’s Front Street, lost all of its facilities in the fire, while 51 of its employees have lost their homes or been displaced on top of now being unemployed. Randall Baybayan, the luau’s general manager, has set up a GoFundMe account for its staff with a goal of $200,000 “to help them with necessities in the interim as they rebuild their homes and their lives, which could take years.” 

Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate in Lahaina has had to furlough a number of workers due to damage at its farm where tours were held and the current lack of access to its surprisingly unharmed factory, normally the site of chocolate tastings and sales. The fire also destroyed two of its workers’ houses and two more lost their apartments in buildings across the street from the factory, according to founder and CEO Gunars Vilkirs. The company has always donated all of its profits to Maui charities, but is now donating 25 percent of proceeds of online sales specifically to recovery efforts. It also lists the four GoFundMe pages established for its affected employees on its Instagram page.

Based in Ma‘alaea Harbor, Maui Reef Adventures is one of many Maui businesses that escaped the fire but saw bookings plummet after the deadly natural disaster made headlines worldwide. While the company immediately put their 60-foot, custom-built luxury raft to use delivering fresh pineapples, food and other supplies to survivors gathered on beaches, the owners also became concerned for their own livelihood as people canceled reservations and new ones stalled, according to co-owner Elizabeth Ferrer. Fortunately, a recent NPR story on their impromptu relief efforts has helped bump future bookings.

Maui Gold Pineapple, which has been donating  fruit to the relief effort, has had to put its tours on hold after losing its Front Street store and offices, sustaining damage to several farms and helping employees who lost everything in the fire. For now, the company encourages purchases of pineapple from its online store to help keep employees working, with a portion of proceeds also designated for local nonprofit relief efforts.

Paying in advance for any activity outside the fire zone in Maui right now also means paychecks for residents. That includes catamaran cruises with Trilogy, which has suspended its operations in Lahaina and Ka‘anapali, but is continuing to provide snorkeling and sunset tours out of Ma‘alaea Harbor. “Please do not cancel your reservation unless you need to. Maui needs its businesses to continue to run—it will help keep our crew and staff employed,” the company notes on its website, which also includes a link to its Trilogy Lahaina Fires Relief Fund, a GoFundMe account that has already raised $621,000 of $700,000 goal. The money will ultimately be distributed to all of Trilogy’s employees and their families, but will start with the 32 workers who lost their homes in Lahaina, according to organizer LiAnne Coon-Driessen, whose family founded the company.

“The response has left us speechless,” Coon-Driessen wrote on Aug. 21. “All of your kind words and donations are not just financial; they are a beacon of light guiding us forward and will make such a difference for our employees who have all been impacted by the devastating Lahaina fires.”