Old Lahaina Luau returns after surviving Maui wildfires

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MAUI, Hawaii — Seven months after wildfires destroyed much of Lahaina, a cherished local business is getting back on its feet. Old Lahaina Luau, which has served and entertained over 4 million guests since 1986, has reopened.

Old Lahaina Luau is located on Front Street, the town’s famous seaside roadway that suffered extensive damage from fires on August 8, 2023. Most of the businesses on Front Street were destroyed, and despite being surrounded by flames, Old Lahaina Luau suffered only smoke damage.

“We’re so lucky that this place has survived the fire,” says Paula Gamboa Martinez, the luau’s emcee.

Even though Old Lahaina Luau’s location survived, the company could not even access the grounds for nearly three months due to National Guard blockades. When the company was finally allowed back on their property, all of the necessary utilities–water, electricity, sewage–remained offline.

“When every one of those things came online, it was a reason for us to celebrate,” recalls Kawika Freitas, Director of Public and Cultural Relations for Old Lahaina Luau.

Nicole Rickard, a longtime dancer and emcee for the company, lost her home to the fire.

“Some of our palm trees are still there, but yeah, the house didn’t make it,” Rickard says. Sadly, Rickard’s story is not uncommon among Old Lahaina Luau’s employees. Co-owner Michael Moore estimates that half of almost 400 employees lost their homes in the fire. Moore believes it’s the company’s kuleana, “responsibility” in Hawaiian, to reopen.

“I feel a kuleana to these people, and how we can make sure we’re taking care of them, and as a whole, taking care of our community,” Moore says.

Rickard is enthusiastic about returning to work, since she is still paying a mortgage, and her unemployment benefits are close to running out. But it’s also about a return to normalcy.

“Just to see everybody again,” Rickard says. “To kind of be with our Old Lahaina Luau family.”

In early March, after months of delay and slow progress, Old Lahaina Luau took its first steps towards reopening, first with a planting ceremony symbolizing the return of the company and of Lahaina itself, and with its first public event, a luau celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. Following these events, Old Lahaina Luau has opened for regular business.

“I really am proud to stand by a company that gives so much back to the community,” Martinez says. “It’s been a tough time, but I know that we’re gonna get through it and persevere.”

Rickard is grateful to come back to work.

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