Maui Food and Dining

Longhi’s: A Living Legacy in Lahaina

December 11, 2015, 10:58 AM HST
Listen to this Article
3 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00
A
A
A

[flashvideo file=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9oX2V-KbJo /]

Opening a door. It was monumental to a teenager whose family had just bought a restaurant in Lahaina. His dad, Bob Longhi had been visiting Hawai’i on an insurance incentive trip when he happened to go to dinner in the building on Front Street that would later become his own.

“He was a ‘foodie’ back in the 60’s, before that existed. He loved Maui and had fallen in love with it in a few short days,” remembers Bob’s son, Peter Longhi. “Turns out the building was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The following day was his 43rd birthday; they were supposed to go to Kauai and he said, ‘Forget it! Maui’s the place for me; I’m gonna be buying this building and opening a restaurant.'”

Nine months later, on December 26, 1976, he did. And 16-year-old Peter Longhi couldn’t wait to get to get his hands on that door.

“I asked my dad, ‘Can I open the front door??’ I thought it was a big deal, and he said, ‘Yeah, why not?’,” laughs Longhi.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD

He says his dad bucked the 70’s trend of “can openers and freezers,” shunning pre-packaged, processed foods for farm-fresh produce, freshly-baked breads, house-made sauces and top-quality ingredients. Serving “food that we love” was the simple but successful criteria.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD

“We had our own bakery so we did our own bread, our own desserts; everything was from scratch,” explains Longhi. “There wasn’t basil, so we went out and got someone to grow basil for us, and lettuces and different herbs. So that was before ‘farm-to-table’ had a name, but that’s basically what it was. Best ingredients, don’t mess around with ‘em too much, and you can come up with a pretty good product.”

Longhi’s Restaurant began in the ground-level part of the building at 888 Front Street. In 1982, it expanded to include the upper floor of the building, where its upscale dining room still exists today. The menu, which Peter Longhi calls “gigantic,” includes fresh, local fish, hormone-free O’ahu chicken, seafood dishes, prime steaks, pastas and award-winning wines.

While some menu offerings are as classic as the restaurant itself, others take a more modern twist, especially in the downstairs dining room, which was renamed Longhi’s Front Street Kitchen in August. It serves breakfast, lunch, daily happy hour (3-5 p.m.) and a different dinner menu than what you’ll find upstairs. Like 12-inch pizzas, salads, sandwiches, tacos, hand-pattied Maui Cattle Company beef burgers, and cross-cultural hot and cold plates that feature “contemporary Hawaiian cuisine with an Asian flair.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD

“We tried to keep the price point low there: burgers are $9, pizzas are around $14, appetizers run in the $8 to $12 range. We do a King crab pohole fern tempura; a lot of interesting small bites,” explains Longhi, adding the downstairs kitchen stays open until 9 p.m. “That concept, we started, ‘Hey, this is a really great dish,’ but it didn’t fit with the cuisine, like ceviche or poke. So we have a separate kitchen downstairs; we’ve had a chance to kind of play around and go with it.”

    +
    SWIPE LEFT OR RIGHT
Painting of Longhi's founder, Bob Longhi. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Painting of Longhi’s founder, Bob Longhi. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Lobster salad for lunch at Longhi's in Lahaina. Courtesy photo.

Lobster salad for lunch at Longhi’s in Lahaina. Courtesy photo.

Longhi's upstairs dining room. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Longhi’s upstairs dining room. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Entry to Longhi's on Front Street in Lahaina. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Entry to Longhi’s on Front Street in Lahaina. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Reuben sandwich at Longhi's Front Street Kitchen. Courtesy photo.

Reuben sandwich at Longhi’s Front Street Kitchen. Courtesy photo.

Bartender at work in Longhi's downstairs bar area. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Bartender at work in Longhi’s downstairs bar area. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Longhi's Front Street Kitchen, serving breakfast, lunch and a different dinner menu. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Longhi’s Front Street Kitchen, serving breakfast, lunch and a different dinner menu. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Cover of Longhi's cookbook. Courtesy photo.

Cover of Longhi’s cookbook. Courtesy photo.

Longhi's Front Street Kitchen menu. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Longhi’s Front Street Kitchen menu. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Freshly-baked treats at Longhi's in Lahaina. Courtesy photo.

Freshly-baked treats at Longhi’s in Lahaina. Courtesy photo.

Painting of Longhi's on Front Street in Lahaina. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Painting of Longhi’s on Front Street in Lahaina. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Peter Longhi, owner of Longhi's in Lahaina. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Peter Longhi, owner of Longhi’s in Lahaina. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Dessert menu on the bar at Longhi's in Lahaina. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Dessert menu on the bar at Longhi’s in Lahaina. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Black-and-white photo of Longhi's, in Lahaina since 1976. Courtesy photo.

Black-and-white photo of Longhi’s, in Lahaina since 1976. Courtesy photo.

Award-winning wine options at Longhi's in Lahaina. Courtesy photo.

Award-winning wine options at Longhi’s in Lahaina. Courtesy photo.

Peter Longhi, who started as “salad man” and sandwich-maker (after, of course, being the door-opener), now helps run the family empire of Longhi’s, which has added restaurants at The Shops at Wailea and Ala Moana, and spent about five years running culinary operations at Travaasa Hana. Peter’s dad, Bob Longhi, passed away in 2012, but his passion and personality evoke smiles and fond memories.

“My father was a great presence and everyone loved him,” Longhi says. “He was a really smart guy, he was a great conversationalist. He brought so much energy to the restaurant and people loved being around him.”

Bob Longhi’s purchase back in 1976 has proven to be a wise one, as the restaurant gets ready to celebrate 40 years in business on Front Street come next December. Even with 170 seats upstairs and 100 more downstairs, the family remains true to Bob’s cause of fresh produce, quality food and personable service.

“The staff is so important; to have motivated people who are happy with their work is important,” says Longhi. “We have to be a team. We want to work together and make sure the customer leaves with a smile and a great meal.”

E-Mail Newsletters Receive daily or weekly updates via e-mail. Subscribe Now
News Alerts Breaking news alerts on your mobile device. Get the App

Comments

This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Maui Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments