Compassionate souls are often at a loss of the best way to give back: Put in some elbow grease at their local soup kitchen, “adopt” a disenfranchised child, or send a check to a nonprofit they believe in?
Go on holiday and that question gets complicated further. You want to travel ethically and support the area you’re visiting, but time, money, and energy are almost always leading factors.
Enter dining out for charity. Now seeing an explosion across the US, the concept is simple: A portion of a venue’s proceeds are donated to local (or larger) charities. For most, it’s a win-win: If you’re going to eat out, why not patron a place that pays it forward to the community?
With that in mind, here are five Maui restaurants (and two culinary events) that do just that, proving Sir Thomas Browne’s belief that charity begins on the home-front:
1 – The Mill House, Waikapu
The Mill House’s Executive Chef Jeff Scheer may have been born and raised in Ohio but when he decided to make Maui his home, he did it with care, verve, and passion. Not only did he graduate from Maui Culinary Academy while holding down a job as a sous chef, but he also worked at an Upcountry farm to gain an intimate knowledge of the ‘aina. In return, his efforts to preserve and enhance the land have been nothing short of admirable. At The Mill House, which is part of Maui Tropical Plantation, he’s played a direct role in nurturing sustainability. His menu is primarily sourced from local ingredients (including many mere yards from his kitchen), he’s cultivated relationships with the island’s fishermen, ranchers, and farmers, and he’s advocated for the use of energy-efficient equipment and water-conservation methods.
The Mill House also, in conjunction with Maui Tropical Plantation, puts on myriad events that support sustainability, including the annual Maui County Agriculture Festival (being held April 5th this year!) and monthly meetings of Hawaii Farmers United. Customers of the restaurant help them spread and uphold this charitable vision, while throughout the year, The Mill House hosts events to offer local and nationwide assistance, including, in the past, a barbeque that donated proceeds to Hurricane Harvey and special dishes to benefit Hurricanes Irma and Jose.
Some of their more recent events include Pig for the Pink where they donated 15% of proceeds to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Another pretty incredible event (pictured above and below) was The Butcher, The Baker, and the Candlestick Maker thrown by the Mill House Restaurant and White Orchid Wedding in the Maui Chef’s Table space. This lively event featured delicious food and drink along with crafts and great music with proceeds going to Nā Keiki O Emalia, which supports grieving children and teens heal after family loss. An incredible cause!
Photography by Stu Soley.
2 – Nalu’s South Shore Grill, Kihei
Nalu’s South Shore Grill has been an island hit since its inception. Located in a commercial plaza in Central Kihei, the capacious venue—complete with a wrap-around bar, open ceilings, and a lanai to dine outside—blends sophistication with an island-wide ethos, serving local favorites like loco moco and poke bowls right next to quirkier fare that’s equally delicious (their Ahi BLT and Cornflake Crusted French Toast are outstanding). A place that’s just as pleasurable to visit for a celebratory meal as it is for a casual breakfast, Nalu’s also keeps spirits soaring with live music nightly.
But as popular as that Ahi BLT might be, Nalu’s is also widely known for their beet and goat cheese salad. Made with Kumu farms organic greens, fresh roasted beets, macadamia nuts, and Surfing Goat Dairy cheese, a portion of the salad’s proceeds are donated to Nalu’s cause of the month. What’s more, every Saturday night, two of Maui’s most coveted musicians—Barry Flanagan of HAPA and Eric Gilliom—perform in concert, with $5 of each entry ticket given to an island charity. Eat Ono, Live Pono indeed.
3 – Merriman’s, Kapalua
Peter Merriman was one of twelve visionary chefs behind the foodie movement that became Hawaii Regional Cuisine—a shift in island eating that promotes relying less on imported foods and more on Hawaii’s bounty. His eponymous restaurant hammers home this ideal, presenting a menu that sources at least 90% of its ingredients locally. With dishes ranging from Kahua Ranch lamb with papaya salsa to Maui Lehua Taro Cake with Hamakua Mushrooms—to say nothing of the restaurant’s jaw-dropping location—eating here is a wholly memorable experience.
But even more delicious is Merriman’s commitment to giving back to the ‘aina and its people: The former football player and boy scout serves on the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation’s advisory committee, and for nearly two decades, he’s granted annual scholarships to budding chefs studying culinary arts on Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai. Additionally, Merriman began the Plant a Tree, Preserve Our ‘Aina program, in which patrons of his restaurant can adopt a native tree to be planted. Special charitable events are also frequently presented at Merriman’s, with proceeds going to organizations ranging from Hospice Maui to Maui Food Bank.
4 – Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar and Grill, Kahului
Sammy Hagar’s reputation as a hard-partying Rock and Roll Famer might soon be upstaged by his humanitarian efforts. Each of his restaurants are committed to giving back to the community, whether that’s his ultra-popular spot in Vegas or his airport venue at Maui’s Kahului Airport. After he and his wife sold their Cabo Wabo tequila enterprise—for a whopping $80 million—they created The Hagar Family Foundation, which, as Samaritan Mag reports, is a private nonprofit that “eliminates much of the red tape that can hamper funds getting quickly to the people and charities that need them.”
“We look for things that are grassroots,” Hagar tells Samaritan Mag. “I don’t want to write a cheque for a million dollars where it goes in the bank; I want to give a dollar to somebody and have it go right in to their pocket. I want to put food on the table. I don’t want to put money in the bank for big organizations…The Hagar Family Foundation wants to support door-to-door, instant. The day I write the cheque; the next day I want to have someone benefit from it.” To that end, Hagar not only donates 100% of the proceeds from his restaurants to the Hagar Foundation but also keeps an eye out on what’s needed locally. “I go to local people,” Hagar says. “We have friends everywhere. So I’ll go to a friend of mine in Maui and I’ll say, ‘Hook me up with the local person that does the most charitable stuff and then I go talk to that guy and he goes, ‘There’s this family that …’” On Maui alone, his foundation has provided for two kidney transplants, medevac to Oahu, and children with cancer, as well as financial support to Hana Youth Center, A Keiki’s Dream, Blessings in a Backpack, and Teens on Call.
5 – Maui Brewing Company, Kihei and Kahana
Started in 2005 by two San Franciscans, Maui Brew Company has set the bar for craft beer in Hawaii. Producing more than 53,000 barrels of beer per year, the outfit—which now has four locations and over 600 employees—was named America’s #1 small business by the Small Business Administration.
The go-to place for terrific boutique brews in an elegant but relaxed setting, they don’t take their distinction lightly—their pub on the West Side is a frequent sight on the charity circuit, hosting events and specials with larger-than-most proceeds (as in 50%) going to everything from the Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation and Big Brothers Big Sisters to Ka Hale a Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center. Drink a beer, improve a life? Yes, please.
Every November, more than twenty distinct restaurants in tony Wailea come together to present a week of price fixed menus that bolster the community. A celebration of unique flavors—from a Waikapu Salad at Pita Paradise to Bolognese at The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea—cash donations made from this much-loved event are contributed to the Maui Food Bank, an organization that helps feed and distribute to Maui’s hungry.
In the preceding month, the equally tony community of Kapalua hosts a similar event, wherein a number of restaurants—including Cane & Canoe, Taverna, and The Plantation House—offer menus that benefit Maui Food Bank’s Aloha Backpack Buddies, which provides nutritious meals for island keiki. And as posh as Kapalua might be, prices are economical, from a $49 three-course meal with fresh island fish at Pineapple Grill to a $25 burger and milkshake combo at Burger Shack.