It’s always sad when you hear that a local Maui institution has died. Bob Longhi, founder of Longhi’s in Lahaina, Wailea and Ala Moana on Oahu, passed away Monday, July 30 at the age of 79. His restaurants were always popular and are among the most consistently good on the island. According to his Maui News obituary, published on July 31, he opened his first Longhi’s Cafe at 888 Front Street in Lahaina way back in 1976, which gave him unmatched longevity on Maui (Chef Mark Ellman, who runs the Maui Tacos chain as well as Penne Pasta, Honu and both Mala locations, got his start working for Longhi).
It’s common when local celebrities (and Longhi definitely was a culinary celebrity on the island) pass away to talk about how loved and respected they were in life, and the Maui News story on him is filled with such statements. But I witnessed this first hand, in the most unlikely of places: the hearing chambers of the Maui County Liquor Control Board of Adjudication.
It was back in the first days of 2007. The LC had busted Longhi’s Lahaina location for serving an intoxicated customer, and Longhi himself had decided to appear at the Adjudication Board’s hearing on the case. He was suffering health problems, and didn’t have to, but showed up anyway.
To my amazement, the board–and deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Hanano–treated Longhi like a rock star. LC Director Frank Silva chatted up Longhi about the restauranteur’s health. Then-board chairman Donald Fujii shook Longhi’s hand. They typical indifference, glares and often outright contempt given to licensees who found themselves before the board was all gone, magically replaced with fan boy attention.
“Hope you don’t hold this against me because I really enjoy your food,” I quoted Hanano as saying in this LC Watch column I later wrote on the encounter.
Longhi just smiled and soaked it all in, even after the board fined his restaurant $1,000.
Photo courtesy DeBorah Hoopingarner