Dana and Mike Pastula are the chef-owners of the Cafe O’Lei restaurants on Maui. These restaurants have some of Maui’s best food, but they are moderately priced, unlike Maui’s much more expensive fine-dining restaurants. This makes them very popular with Maui residents as well as tourists.
Dana usually works at the Cafe O’Lei at the Dunes in Kahului, but I interviewed her at Cafe O’Lei in Napili in January of 2011, to learn more about her and her husband and these excellent Maui restaurants. See the complete interview below.
Here are links to pages with reviews, menu lists, and food photos, from Cafe O’Lei restaurants: Kihei (south side), Dunes golf course in Kahului (central valley of Maui), Napili (closed but formerly west side), Wailuku (closed but formerly central Maui).
I interviewed Dana after dinner at Cafe O’Lei Napili in 2011.
Jon: When did you come to Maui?
Dana: Mike and I moved here from Chicago initially in 1982. We both worked for the Hyatt Regency Maui.
Jon: When did you start in the restaurant business?
Dana: We had several restaurants in California. After moving to Maui, I started a small cafe in Makawao in 1997. It was a 5-table cafe mainly serving sandwiches, coffee and tea. We called it Cafe O’ Lei as a play on words with a Hawaiian touch. The name stuck for our later restaurants.
Jon: Have you had formal training as a chef?
Dana: Mike had been chef of many hotels, Hyatt, Sheraton, Lodge of Koele to name a few. I went to school for hotel and restaurant management. I learned food by osmosis. My mom had a bakery and catering business so it was in the blood growing up.
Jon: How many Cafe O’Lei restaurants are there now, and where are they?
Dana: We have 5 restaurants on Maui right now: Napili, Kihei, The Dunes in Kahului, Wailuku, and Waiehu.
Jon: How do you select items for the menu? Do you invent the recipes yourself?
Dana: Most of the items on the menu are Mike’s and my recipes. These are foods that we love to eat. We call it comfort American food using many of our local products. Because of my background and the diversity of Hawaii, we put a lot of Asian twist to the flavors.
Jon: Is the menu the same at all five restaurants?
Dana: All the restaurants have a core Cafe O’ Lei menu. The different items will be influenced by the Chef de Cuisine and what they specialize in. We give our chefs quite a bit of room for their creativity. You can see that on our daily specials.
Jon: What awards have you won?
Dana: We have won Hale Aina, Maui news, Maui Times. We are on the Frommers, Fodors and Trip Advisors preferred restaurants. Mike and I are happy we get honored but it is not so important to us. We know we have done well when we have many locals recommending us.
Jon: Do you and Mike do the cooking at any of the restaurants?
Dana: Now that we have five, we mainly focus on organization, marketing, and concept. The best thing about being chefs is knowing what you want out of your kitchen. We mainly do not ask something from our staff if we cannot do it ourselves. There was a time when we opened and closed the restaurant ourselves every day, cooking, washing, and marketing. Back then, we did not have enough money to hire a staff.
Jon: What do you like about living on Maui?
Dana: The perfect weather, great people that live here, and meeting new people from all over the world. Mike and I are two of those lucky ones that love what we do and make a living at the same time. We are really blessed with the opportunity to do it in paradise.
Jon: What do you like about the restaurant business?
Dana: Every day is different. It is a business where you can get direct satisfaction. You see a smile on someone’s face!
Jon: What else would you like to tell the readers of this Maui Vacations website about your restaurants?
Dana: We use the same product . . . meat, fish, produce, as what all high end hotels and restaurants purchase, even though our menu prices are lower. We select our staff keeping in mind that we want them to be “people pleasers.” Cafe O’Lei may not be grand and glorious but you will have good food, friendly and great service with affordability. We are proud to be considered by many to be a local favorite.