Buy local? For eateries competing with chains, it’s tougher than it sounds

Tails Up Maui is a restaurant in Paukukalo that served fresh fish and almost all local ingredients.
Published: Jul. 3, 2023 at 6:42 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 4, 2023 at 12:34 PM HST
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PAUKUKALO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tails Up Maui is a restaurant in Paukukalo that serves fresh fish and almost all local ingredients.

But chef and owner Brian Etheredge found it impossible to succeed with that business model and had to close his restaurant after just two and a half months in operation.

He says his story is a cautionary tale for Hawaii’s ongoing efforts to become more self-sustaining.

“I can tell you, 85% of this menu was bought from local people,” said Etheredge.

Etheredge and fisherman Chimo Shipp opened their doors for business on March 28.

“It was fast and furious,” he said.

They were closed by June 12.

“There are some other places that use frozen fish, and yes, their fish sandwich is going to be cheaper. But they’re not buying it from the fisherman that’s your neighbor that your kids go to school with that we do, and they’re not buying the buns from the bakery right across the street,” Etheredge said.

Etheredge says with more fast-food chains popping up around the Valley Isle boasting attractive dollar menus, he’s not sure if his business model can work.

“I’m not born and raised in Maui. I was brought over here over 25 years ago by Sam Choy to open a restaurant here,” he said. “And one thing that I’ve always appreciated about this island was that it was uniquely Maui. Everything about it was unique to here … now it ... just feels like it’s going too far.”

So, Tails Up Maui is closed for now — but and hopes to reopen soon.

The Hawaii Small Business Development Center says operating a small business in Maui is especially challenging.

“The one difference on Maui from maybe any other place in the United States, and even in our state, is that Maui is really rural based. So, we have additional challenges,” said Wayne Wong, Maui director.

“We don’t get a lot of acknowledgments from the federal government, and sometimes even the state, anything that comes out of the state is almost always Oahu centric, doesn’t quite often cover Maui.”

But Chef Brian is not giving up.

“I truly believe, maybe to a fault, that we have an opportunity here in Maui to be a model of sustainability. I don’t think we have a choice, really,” he said.

“I’m not showing up to the table with a banner saying I got it figured out. But what I’m saying, I’m willing to do the work … if community, you’re willing to join in, and let’s do it together.”

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