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Today on Hawaii’s Best, I’m chatting with Jonathan Lee, Food and Beverage Director at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali. Jonathan has been driving efficiency, excellence, and cost-effectiveness through all facets of restaurant operations. Jonathan’s years of experience as an Executive Chef with two tenures in global hospitality environments means he brings the tactical knowledge and strategic intuition needed to create establishments that are positioned for growth.  

Jonathan likes to travel, see different cultures, and speak with people who think differently. While traveling, Jonathan loves to learn about people and food. Food lends itself to learning every day. It doesn’t matter who you meet; someone can always cook better than you. When Jonathan was a kid, every person knew how to cook in Hawaii; it was part of the culture. Now, there are lots of local Hawaiian chefs working in the hotels, whereas before chefs would come from other countries.  

You have to have culture for taste. For example, a traditional taco has been the same for 100 years. It’s a tortilla with meat, onions, cilantro, and salsa. For Jonathan, a taco meant a crispy shell with ground beef. Once the traditional taco was introduced as what it should be, then it changed back because of culture. Poké is a Hawaiian example, it’s not a trend, it’s a tradition. These days you can see poké in food carts across New York City.

Jonathan gives some history on the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali. The seven pools are part of the draw of the resort. Plus, the view is unbeatable. The resort is allowed to sell liquor up to the sand. There is a large section of grass that is right on the beach running alongside the entire proper. Not many resorts are beachside in Maui. The resort is currently undergoing a massive renovation; when the transformation is complete, there will be a complete relaunch. 

Jonathan says the cultural piece of the hotel is vital to bring it back. They will be supporting local artists instead of bringing in big names from the states. It’s unfair for guests not to get an authentic taste of Hawaiian culture. The last renovation of the hotel is for food and beverage. They are building two new bars based on seven cocktails. Each drink has a story about Maui; the entire concept is based on these seven stories. The history and culture are told in stories via these drinks. 

During this episode, learn more about renovations at the Westin, Jonathan’s favorite story growing up, and some etiquette tips for your first trip to Hawaii.  

In This Episode

  • About Jonathan [0:05]
  • Does culture or taste come first? [6:15]
  • About the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali [8:40]
  • Hawaiian cultural advisor [14:55]
  • Renovations at Westin Maui Resort [18:10]
  • Opening a new restaurant in the Westin [25:00]
  • Jonathan’s favorite story growing up [27:00]
  • Etiquette for your first trip to Hawaii [30:40]
  • Why you should stay at the Westin [33:40]


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Bryan: Jonathan, thank you so much for hanging out with us today on Hawaii’s best. How are you doing? And tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Jonathan: Fantastic. Now, it was good fun. We had breakfast this morning. I’m the food and beverage director here at the Weston. I’ve been at the hotel about a year and a half. I actually grew up on this side of the Island and moved back about three years ago.

[expand title=”Click Here To Read The Full Transcript”]

Bryan: Jonathan, thank you so much for hanging out with us today on Hawaii’s best. How are you doing? And tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Jonathan: Fantastic. Now, it was good fun. We had breakfast this morning. I’m the food and beverage director here at the Weston. I’ve been at the hotel about a year and a half. I actually grew up on this side of the Island and moved back about three years ago. First year I came home, I actually lived in Hong Kong and then I was in an Oahu for the year after that and now I’m actually home. And it’s been a lot of fun and we had a perfect morning. It was nice. 

Bryan: That was amazing. Now have you always been in this kind of field of work? 

Jonathan: I was in hotels. I grew up, since I grew up in Hawaii. Hospitality’s always kind of part of stuff. When I was a kid, a real young, I wanted to be a Ninja and that never panned out. I got the right last name. Nothing else kind of worked out for me. And then I worked in restaurants around towns when I was a kid. And then my first kind of love was always been the oceans. So, I worked on boats for a little bit.

I was, I worked on a sailboat, I was a commercial diver for a little while and then I needed to make money. So that had to go away. And so, I ended up working at a hotel up North at the Ritz Carlton. Kind of progressed through that. Spent the last 25 years traveling around the planet and I was a chef for a little bit. And I was a restaurant consultant and the hospitality consultant. And now I’m back heading up a project that we’re doing here at the Westin that will be completed in June of 2020. 

Bryan: Awesome. We’ll definitely get into the details of that and all those good things. Well, maybe a little bit more about you, food and beverage director. Is that a passion of yours? Can you expand a little bit? 

Jonathan: I was a chef. I was the executive chef for several hotels. I worked for a catering company and did that until I was in my early thirties. And then I decided that I wasn’t going to be the best chef. I’m okay at it, but I was never going to be the best.

And I had an opportunity to work for a company that allowed me to be a consultant and travel a little bit more, so outside of the water I think traveling, I really like seeing cultures and different people and the way people think and growing up here that was nice. Growing up in Hawaii, you have, everybody comes here. So, you have people from all walks of life and all over the planet.

And I thought, yeah, this seems, I’d like to go see where they’re from. So, I spent the last 10 or 12 years traveling pretty extensively, and it’s always been a passion. Traveling for me is the same thing. I want to learn about the people. I really want to learn about the food. I want to learn about, you know, what things that they like and your kind of, as you travel more and more, you find out that people want the same things no matter where they live.

They want to be happy, they want a good family, they want to contribute something to the society and everybody’s generally proud of where they’re from. So, I’m very proud of being from Hawaii, very proud of being from Maui. I’m very proud of, you know, growing up on the West side of this Island and everybody’s very similar to that no matter where they’re from.

So, it is always been a passion. I’m very passionate about people in learning and food lends itself to learning every day. Cause it doesn’t matter who you meet, somebody can cook something much better than you or is eating something that never have. So yeah, that’s part of it I love. 

Bryan: It is a very intimate part of the culture. 

Jonathan: 100% yeah. 

Bryan: You spend some time off the islands for a period and then you came back. Talk a little bit about what was life like on Hawaii prior to that and then what was it like when he came back? 

Jonathan: When I was a kid here, I remember it was I talked about being a Ninja, because I would go to Oahu when I was younger and spend a couple of weeks and go see grandparents and stuff like that. And the old international marketplace in Honolulu was about a block and a half from where my family lived.

And during the summer you had to pass Cohoe, which is a street right in front of international marketplaces. And it was at that point, and this is, you know, late seventies, early eighties and mid-eighties. It wasn’t safe. So it was, by not safe, it was, I used to think it was very neat. You know, there’s a lot of stuff going on.

So, we had to be home before it got dark. We had to cross the street and stuff. And I just remember then it was you could do, you know, we’d be gone all day, we’d go boogie boarding or surfing or causing problems and try not to get caught or what it was, and nobody worried about it. And even in Maui there was nothing. 

You never were worried about stuff. Everybody knows you. So, if you do something wrong, you’re not getting caught by just your parents. Your parents are finding stuff out without investigating. You know, everybody, every auntie, every uncle, every neighbor, everybody knows who you are.

They know who your parents are, they know what time your parents get off of work. They probably work with your parents. So, it was a great place to grow up because you had to be either clever or good and nobody was ever clever. So, you just kind of always had to be good. And everybody, it’s a very tight knit community.

Everybody knows everybody. And coming back, it was neat to see that a lot of the same people I grew up with, they’re still here. They’ve got kids now, they’re married.

They still have the same maturity level and everything else. A lot more responsibilities. From a food standpoint, I thought it was just, it was like Thunderdome here when I was a kid. It was when Pacific rim cuisine was first starting, when I first started to get into cooking, and everybody knew how to cook. I think that’s still the same here. When I was a kid. Every man knew how to cook.

Every woman knew how to cook. It was part of the culture and it still is. The food scene is getting better, I think. I was surprised because I would come back periodically over the last couple of decades and I was always kind of disappointed, you know, there was stuff that I always came back for, you know, like local favors and stuff that reminded me at home. But it’s kind of got disappointed.

Now I see there’s a lot of local chefs. Which is great because when I was a kid, you are French, you are German, you are Dutch, you are Austrian, you are from someplace else. They brought you in because that meant quality. That doesn’t mean quality. Here you got, you know, you guys got guys like Sheldon or Leanne, Joe Joe, Joey Macadangdang, you’ve got all these guys that are coming up.

Kenny at the Ritz, you’ve got chef Jenn here at the Westin who are just passionate and are all in. They are you know, walking Wikipedia of culinary stuff and the amount of and things that they could learn at a such a young age.

They didn’t have to go, if they wanted to learn about French food and move to France, they could do that because there was, there’s so much access that, so I think it’s a lot of fun. There’s no more borders anymore with food.

I think that’s gone away. So, I would say Hawaii, especially Maui’s starting to really kind of kick into staying with tradition a little bit, but really bringing in showcasing all the young talent that’s coming up. 

Bryan: Now. From your perspective, in your role, how would you answer this? What comes for culture or taste? 

Jonathan: I think you have to have culture for taste. So culturally, I always use tacos as an illustration for a question like this. A traditional taco has been a traditional taco. If you go into outside of Aztec stadium in Mexico City, they make tacos the same way they’ve been making tacos, you know, for a hundred years.

It’s that tortilla, either a flower or a corn tortilla with meat, onion, cilantro, and then you have sauces you want to put on the side and that’s it. When I was a kid, a taco was a crispy shell tortilla. It was ground beef, it was lettuce, it was tomatoes, it was cheese, it was cream. It was all these different things.

Nobody wanted to hear about the real tacos. Now, once that was introduced and it started to become, here’s what a taco should be, unbelievable what the cultural change of that was, but it wasn’t the taste of it. It was the cultural piece, that tacos has always been there. The introduction of it and the liking of it changed that.

But the cultural piece, that’s the foundation of how that started. Pokey is a perfect example for Hawaii. So, pokey has been around my whole life, well my whole life and many other people’s lives. And now it is over the last 10 years, you see an increase of it in New York and Los Angeles and other places.

Pokey wasn’t a fad here. It’s a cultural piece. It’s just, it’s been, it’s been a part of the culture. It means cut fish. It’s never, you know, the best pokey in the world is pokey. Its fish was salt and ogo. No soy sauce, no Sesame. Because the fish is so good, they wouldn’t want to really do anything with it.

So, people have now figured out the taste because it’s been given to them, but Pokey is cultural, if it didn’t taste good, then you couldn’t send it out anymore. But it’s a cultural piece. Poi is another example. Poi, if you grew up with Poi, you love it. It’s spam. You know, we grew up with spam. Spam is not cultural-ish, but poi is part of the culture. [08:18 inaudible] yeah. There’s a lot. So, I would say culture. 

Bryan: Yeah. That’s good. Shifting gears, a little bit and we’re sitting in this beautiful resort. 

Jonathan: We’re sitting in a room that’s completely empty, that’s about to be demolished. 

Bryan: For all transparency, but on the property of the Western, there’s been a lot of recent renovation and improvements, but love to hear a little bit more about the history of the Westin and how it all started.

Jonathan: So Kaanapali itself where the Westin sits in the middle of Kaanapali. Kaanapali is separated by two areas. So North and South Kaanapali and it’s separated by big black rock that’s known as black rock. It’s very clever, very good name. And for years and years it wasn’t anything in Kaanapali.

There’s the Sheraton. Kaanapali has been here before I was born, it has been here since the early sixties, maybe even late fifties. And it was the only resort on the South side of Kaanapali forever and ever where Westin sits now and where all the Hyatt and all the other hotels are. Years ago, it was a racetrack.

It used to be an old horse race track. Then it was just beaches and there was a golf course that’s been out there for a long time. And then Maui surf came along. So, Maui surf is what the Westin is today. But that structure has been here. The second tower came in later, but Maui surf was a hotel when I was a kid. When you walked into the lobby it was completely flat.

It was just a giant field all the way out to where the beaches and then you could see the water when you came into the lobby. So, when we’re younger, we play football on it and you know, sneak into the hotels and steel towels and make sure that we could play around there during the day, like a ninja.

See I was doing some practicing and then it started to develop in the mid-eighties is when all of the designs or early eighties is when all the new pool designs happen. So, when Vegas started to build up and have, you know, fancy pools and California and fancy pools, they came in and really made a massive renovation and built this, you know, jungle gym, like pool area.

And that’s still kind of the focal point of the resort today. It has waterfalls and slides and we have five pools, will soon to have seven. So, it’s, it’s always was kind of the playground for all the kids and everybody else.

And we are sitting in a very empty, you know, room about to be demolished, but we can look out and we see the Island of [10:45 inaudible] and we see the Island of Molokai and it’s windy a little bit today, but it’s a view that you can’t beat ever. 

Bryan: When you think of Maui that you think about this view, right? 

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Bryan: What I thought was impressive. First time stand at the Westin, you walk out towards the pool and you get past the pool hut and you’re like, you’re literally on the beach. Like I don’t think I’ve ever experienced another place like that. 

Jonathan: So, we have, we were having a big conversation the other day about liquor licenses, we can serve liquor up to the sand. We have a beach path that is four feet or five feet, six feet wide or whatever it is. And that has 10,000 people that walk up and down it all day.

But then we have a giant section of grass that runs the entire length of the property that is right on the beach. It’s funny in Honolulu and Waikiki and other areas in Hawaii, it’s very, very difficult to have a resort that’s right on the beach and we are right on the beach. 

Bryan: Yeah. Yeah. And even kind of comparing this place to Waikiki, thinking about the beach and the amenities, what I love about it is you can get on an Outrigger, you can learn how to surf, you can do all those

Things right here without all the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. 

Jonathan: Yeah. And its so part of right now we’re in, we’ll talk a little bit more about it, but the hotel is going on a transformation. So, we have a massive renovation started about 18 months ago. It will conclude in the room that we’re sitting in right now, which will be a restaurant created by Sang Hui out of Los Angeles who has father’s office.

And when that transformation becomes complete, it will start the really the relaunch of what the Westin will be moving forward. So, you were talking about the water. We have a gentleman we had lunch with today, Eric Frankham started a program called the Western Waterman.

So, Eric is exceptionally passionate about surfing and paddle boarding and anything that has to do with water, just like I am in like the majority of people that choose to live here. It’s an integral part of our culture. We have some of the best water men and women on the planet that call Maui homes. So, Laird Hamilton’s who lived here when in the 90s. Him and Gabby Reese lived here.

Zane Sweitzer who has partnered with us on this. And it’s a combination of a couple things. One, we want to educate people about the ocean and the fun things that can go on in a variety of things you can do. So, you can surf, and you can paddle, and you can fish, and you can dive and free dive and all these different things.

But also educate the younger people coming up that for us to sustain this, that needs to be a little work. We’re doing a very good job as a race of trying to destroy it. So, we need to counteract that by doing a very good job as a race to not destroy it. 

So, we’re going to, Eric has set up this wonderful program about educating people so that when we’ve done it for over a year now in phase two of that, we’ll be in collocating all of those activities that you talked about and really utilizing. So, Outrigger canoe, doing Outrigger canoe trips and educating guests on that surfing and paddle boarding and turtle tours. And we have, this is one of the few Marine sanctuaries for humpback whales among the planets.

So right out front of the hotel from December to April is going to be whale season, so we’ll have humpbacks you sit on where we’re sitting right now. You sit in your hotel, you sit on the beach, you sit in the pool and you can watch whales all over the place.

So, it is such an important thing for our society, for our culture, for our people to make sure that we keep this sustained that Westin from a standpoint of making sure that we do our part, we have inculcated water all throughout the property. So, as we open up the beach to the lobby or to the portraiture when you come in is all going to be one area for us. 

Bryan: That’s cool. So, you guys are obviously creating great experiences, but beyond that there’s a culture educational aspect to it, because obviously there needs to be attractional piece as well for guests. But also, there’s this educational piece. 

Jonathan: We were talking earlier about starting for the first time the Westin and Kaanapali will have a Hawaiian cultural advisor and an advisor program. It is so important. Hawaii is not like any other place. And everybody can say that about it and they’re probably right.

But from a destination, especially for in the US there’s no place like it. We are first culture. We’re first history. We’re the third people, which make up those two things and keep it perpetuated. We don’t show hospitality. We are hospitality. We are a culture of people that have been showing off our land and showing off and sharing cultural pieces with people for as long as we’ve been a culture.

So, it is not a vacation in the sense that, you know, yes, you’re going to relax. Yes, there’s going to be byproducts of vacation. It’s beautiful. It’s stunning. All these things. We want to inculcate what the history of this was. You asked, you know, is it taste or culture? In this case, it’s always culture, it’s always culture.

It’s the people, you know Our culture dictates why the people are so wonderful. Why we’re unique. Why when you come here, you feel like your part of here. It’s not a, you know, when we have visitors here, we don’t want the visitors to be visitors. We want the visitors to be part of our Ohana or part of our family.

So, the cultural piece for our hotel is so vital to bring that back because we’re not trying to, we’re reprogramming the entire building and I’m not going to have, and no offense to any of these musicians, but there won’t be a Jimmy Buffett’s, there won’t be, you know, Stevie Ray Vaughan. There won’t be a bunch of stuff that Toby Keith or you know, these things, cause that’s not who we are.

So, we will have, you know, local artists and we will support our community because it needs to be sustained. So, we’re going to keep everything in Maui, keep everything in [16:40 inaudible] keep everything in Mullica. So, Maui County will be, but our food will be that way. Our drinks will be that way. Our education will be that way.

So, we have somebody that will educate people not only in Maui, in Hawaii, but also on the West side of Maui. So, the [16:54 inaudible] where we’re sitting next to be the Royal capital for Hawaii for hundreds of years. So, it has such a historical, massive piece in history that it seems unfair to our guests, our Ohana that’s coming from someplace else, not to share that. 

Bryan: So much more than just Mai Tais. 

Jonathan: We do make good Mai Tais. 

Bryan: And like you said, that’s a byproduct. Everything you do is what I’m hearing is through the spirit of Aloha. 

Jonathan: Yeah. Aloha by definition means first breath in, last breath out. And it’s more than hello and goodbye. It is the first breath that you take in when you get here. You’re part of us. Until the last breath when you leave. And even then, when you leave here, you’ll remember this for the rest of your life. It the old question, you know, do you remember the best meal you ever had?

And you can describe what you are wearing. You can describe what it smelled like. You can describe of the different things. And then if I asked somebody what they ate on Wednesday two weeks ago, you have no idea. So, we’re an emotional experience if you let it be. But we need that cultural piece to drive that. 

Bryan: I love for our listeners to hear more about what the renovations look like, what phases and spend some time there and rattle off a what can we look forward to and what is already here. 

Jonathan: Yeah, so yesterday we started phase three, so it’s the beginning of September. The phase one was the tower that you and I are sitting below is about 90% down. We’ve got [18:21 inaudible] mentioned a little bit later, but all those rooms are done. Unbelievable. Gorgeous. We had a designer, Marui Kim who’s from Maui, came in and she designed stuff from all over the world.

Bryan: She’s designed stuff in London and Paris, New York, and then she’s from, she’s a local girl. So, she came back and did a bunch of research and did a whole design based on history of West Maui. And then we did the lobby at that point. We built a very nice parking structure. So, we got some, you know, face lift stuff at the very beginning. Phase two is the pools.

Like I said earlier, we have five pools. We’re going to have seven out of the where about, so September but end of December before Christmas, we’ll be done with that. And phase three is the FNB portion. So, this is the portion I’ve been waiting 18 months for and planning and everything else.

We have a lot of new things and everything’s kind of a big piece of a puzzle. So, from a food and beverage piece, we talked about cultural and how important it is to bring that back. We are building two new bars one we’ll be finished here shortly. Another one will be done in April. Both of those will be based on cocktail. So, the talk story bar, which will be a 200-seat bar, Good.

You liked the name, I had been going back and forth the general manager and I, [19:38 inaudible] and going back and forth. So, I’m glad you like it. Talk Story bar will be kind of flanked the ocean. It’ll have seats, it’d be right on the beach, it’ll be next to the pool and it’s based on seven cocktails.

So, seven cocktails that I went back. And I’ve a very good friend in Oahu named Andrew Woodley, who is one of the top three or four bartenders in the world. So, him and I worked on concept for it. But the idea is if we went back to the original Tiki, so trader Vic’s or Beachcomber Bob’s, we found drinks that we could tie into where we are, and each drink has a story about Maui and half the drinks are stories about this side of Maui. 

And so, we based an entire concept on those seven stories. So, the idea was to take our history and our culture and then bring it to other people and the name Talk Story came from the idea that this is a communal place. We want people to talk about stuff. And I love stories. I love stories. I love listening to the old kupunas.

And you know, the older ones tell about stories when they were young. So that’s the talk story bar. Then we have the adult pool bar, which is based on, I had a big affinity for spa stuff in the 80s so like California spa cuisine. I thought it was really cool, you know, the use of avocado and all the other kind of goofy stuff and the outfits people wore, I thought that was cool.

So anyway, regardless, so that bar is going to be based on kind of an elixir spa infused in Hawaiian ingredients. So, it’ll be, you know, savory herbs and sweets and things. But the whole idea, that bar is called [21:15 inaudible], which means relaxation. So, it’s an adult only VIP type area where we’ll have live music up there, but it’ll be very tasteful and quiet and everything else.

And then there’ll be roped off. It’ll be kids free and it’s just, it’s going to be a really nice space. We have a market’s chef Jen [21:29 inaudible] is our executive chef here who is in Paris right now sending me, she’s blowing up my phone with pictures of, have you ever heard of the loo? I had a croissant. So, she’s having a great time and she has designed a market and we took inspiration from like a Dean and DeLuca or a Wegmans or something like that.

Or you know, these little specialty markets that you’d find in Italy or Spain and other places they used to be here too, you know, like we have HASI GABA general store in Hana. We have [22:01 inaudible] and all these different little places that have been around. And it will be a small little place that’ll have four or five food stations. And then that’ll probably make up 80% of the market.

And then 15 to 20% will be handcrafted artisan stuff. We are partnering with a company called Kuya chocolates, which is in [22:19 inaudible] that is philanthropists, Gunner, Dr gunner who started it is donating all of the profits. 100% of his profits would be donated to Maui charities. Because he doesn’t need the money and he wanted to give back to the community and it’s just a, it’s a wonderful partnership.

We’ve got, you know, people that make, whether it’s soap or bracelets, whatever any kind of artists and stuff that we can find. But the only tangent is that it has to be 100% made at Maui period. It has to be local. And it has to be something that you can’t get anywhere else. So, I want that. We have a full-blown Starbucks that’s coming in, so that’ll be, you know, it ticks a box for us.

So cultural piece not as much, but it’s still Starbucks. And then we talked about [23:04 inaudible] is got a restaurant that’s going to be the centerpiece of the culinary stuff. It’ll be, you know, massive 380 seat restaurant on the water that is taken over by one of the best chefs in LA currently.

And then the kind of the, creme de la creme of what we’ve got going on is where we’re sitting now above us will be our Lanai experience. So, the tower that we have, will have this space that will be centered around culture, locality, food and beverage. It will be a hundred percent, everything that goes up in there will be 100% local.

We will have a Hawaiian cultural team that will be up their activities and we’ve broken it off into morning activity, which will start the morning with an [23:50 inaudible] or something similar to that. We’ll have an afternoon cultural activity and evening culture activity that will be provided for all the guests who buy into this tower or you know, stay in this tower with us. 

And it will be the most authentic, culturally accurate experience that one would have. So, if you wanted to come to Hawaii and experience Hawaii experience, I mean really, really experience it, this is the only place that you would want to stay. And we’re more excited about that. Well, you know, we’ve been working on cocktails that are, we won’t have any alcohol that’s not from Hawaii that’s up there.

So, nothing, everything will be local. We have enough. Now It’s nice. There’s enough distilleries and breweries going to provide us with some booze to make this appropriate and everything. So, we’ve got that going on. Everything should be done. Minus Sangs is a little bit longer just because of the magnitude of the project. Sang will be done 20 June of 2020. The other projects will be done. Almost all of them will done by April or May of 2020.

Bryan: Out of all of these projects and all these moving pieces and puzzle pieces as you call them, which one maybe personally you’re most excited about? Would that be what I assume the [25:01 inaudible].

Jonathan: [25:03 inaudible] to me is the, I’ve opened up, I don’t know, in my career I probably opened up 1500 restaurants, maybe more, and I’ve done it in 70 different countries. Nothing has hit home more to me than this. We have so many people that are passionate about this and this wasn’t just me designing this. I had the idea of what I wanted, and I knew, I wanted something that was culturally accurate.

I wanted something that would, we have a phrase here, chicken skin, you know, give you chicken skin when you walked in Goosebumps. And I shared that idea with our general manager. I shared that idea with our marketing team, but when I started sharing it with our team, with our associates, then you find out that I’m not unique here. I’ve got a building of 400 people that won to do the exact same thing.

So, when I talk to our front desk people or I talked to our guest service team, or I talked to landscapers, housekeepers, cooks, anybody else, everybody wants to be involved. So, for me, the collaboration with everybody in the building to get it going and we did a showcase of what that looked like to our ownership and to our management team.

It’ll make you cry. I mean, it’s absolutely, it’s heart wrenching. It’s beautiful, but it means something. It’s not just, you know, like the drinks and stuff. Everything will be culturally accurate and everything else. But this will tug at your heart. And that’s what we wanted to accomplish, that we can do because of how passionate everybody that works here is about it.

Bryan: Having that buy in and having that ownership amongst your team and associates, I mean that’s huge. That’s when you know you’re onto something. 

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. Because I’m not all that bright. So, you know, I wasn’t asking to be friendly. I was asking, I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about here. Can you help me out? 

Bryan: That’s leadership too. 

Jonathan: Just by default. Yeah. Perfect. 

Bryan: Growing up on Maui, talking about stories, what was maybe one of your favorite stories growing up in regard to the Maui? 

Jonathan: We always like questions, right? So, tourists, obviously as a kid, you know, you don’t appreciate people coming from other places. So, my father came here in the fifties. He’s old. So, he’s when in the early fifties now. He was very well known for Linnea specifically It was very well known for black coral.

So, we had a lot of black coral. Now there’s less and less of it obviously, because it doesn’t generate itself. By the time I was old enough to dive and do that type of stuff with my father, it was really deep. So, you’d have to dive 200 and 250, now they’re diving over 300 feet to go get this stuff. My dad was here in the fifties it was, I don’t know, 30, 35 feet. So, they get free dive for it.

And he used to have some great stories about, you know, these, all of these guys going out and they would dive all day and then drink all night. So it was, you know, this kind of fantasy, you know, he obviously, I don’t think he was married at this point so he can do whatever he want.

But as a kid I just remember questions, you know, tourists especially would ask questions about neat stuff, you know, they would like, they would if you and I were standing here and they would look at Linnea and say, Hey, is that California?

My ex-wife’s family has boats and I worked on those for a long time when I was a kid and she still has them and know her and I used to laugh because they would, you know, we’d be on the boat and I remember a man who was, I can tell you, Ken from Topeka, Kansas. Ken, want to know if water went all the way around the Island. He wanted to know how you got to that. If you could swim under, if there was a tunnel or if you could drive underneath a Maui to get from one side to the other.

He rattled off these three questions, Ken from Topeka, and if you’re listening, and I remember, you know, we would get to a point where we would just, yes, the water, it actually doesn’t go all the way around. It stops, you know and that’s, you didn’t see that when you came in. Yeah, you actually can.

What I need you to do is go talk to our friends, [28:56 inaudible] fish company or wherever and just tell him, Hey, you need the key because you want to do the drive under the Island. You know [29:04 inaudible] where we have shenanigans, if you will. I remember as a kid though, sneaking into pools I thought was the greatest. It was like the greatest, never really hurting anybody, you’re always running away from stuff.

The freedom as a child here to go diving, you know, to go. We grew up eating fresh fish. We grew up with sea turtles, we grew up with whales. We grew up with old salty sea men that were angry all the time. And they were, I didn’t, I had an uncle that I didn’t know drank until I saw him sober one time. I mean, I was are you okay?

Jumping off rocks. And just, it was such a free and loving place. And it taught us more about the golden rule, I think than any place I’ve ever lived because here you treat everybody exactly how you want to be treated. Because sure enough you get mad in traffic and give somebody a gesture that you shouldn’t. 

Say you’re going someplace, they’re probably going there too. So, you know, it’s not a good situation. So, it just teaches you and I lived on Linnea for almost two years and that was an Island of 3000 people where everybody knows your name legitimately. And it just, it’s, you have friends that are friends for life.

You have family, you know, everybody that’s older than you as uncle or auntie, you learn respect, you learn how you should treat people. You learn about culture. You’re inculcated and immersed in an area that the whole world comes to you. That’s what I love living here now and that was my favorite part of growing up here. 

Bryan: Going back a little bit, I love your posture in visiting other cultures, wanting to go there and experience it, being there, knowing that you’re a guest, asking those questions. Maybe speak a little bit about someone who’s coming to Hawaii for the first time. What are some culture things? We talked a lot about culture, but maybe what are some etiquette things that you want people just to be aware of before they Deplane? 

Jonathan: I would say, if you’re going to, when you come to Maui or when you come to Hawaii, come to Hawaii. Forget where you’re from for a little bit. I always tell people, you know what you know, you’ll never forget that. Your job now is to learn all this stuff. You don’t know. So, from an etiquette standpoint, here’s a couple of quick things.

Aloha to everybody that is used. It’s not a hashtag, Aloha Mahalo go a long way. It’s please and thank you for everything as hello, goodbye. Listen more than speak. This is an opportunity for somebody to learn about a culture that they probably don’t know a lot about. Ask questions. And I am a massive proponent of who, what, where, when, why, how. Couple like real etiquette things, always remove your shoes before you enter somebody’s house.

Always. I don’t care who the house is always, it’s not an option. It’s a practice. You know, I’ve got enough lickings for even walking one foot in with a pair of slippers. I don’t do it anywhere I go regardless of where it is. Remember that if you’re driving, we’re very limited on roads here. If you’re driving or want to take a picture, absolutely pull over and do it.

Don’t use your cell phone when you’re driving around here. You know, we have kids running around. We have all kinds of stuff. There’s people crossing the street all the time to go surfing or go in the water, things like that. Be cognizant of people. I mean really, you’re going to immerse yourself in where you are, but really being cognizant of people.

And if you don’t know, if you should do something, ask somebody. It’s very, very simple. For the most part, Hawaii is one of the most educated places I know as far as people that know where they’re from. So, if you want to ask any local person for sure, hey, what do you think about this or what do you think about that?

Absolutely. Another wonderful, see, ask somebody where to eat. You know, like right now if I have, I’ll talk to 500 people in the hotel today and they’ll ask me where to eat and I’ll obviously I’ll say, yes, you should eat here. But I don’t eat here. I’ll tell you where I go.

And you know, if I’m not cooking at home or I’m not going to a barbecue or I’m not doing this, if I’m not out with my girlfriend exploring or having, making us, making dinner together and I got 50 places I can go and eat, you know, and we have a lot of good local people that cook for us and everything else.

Don’t be afraid to do something that’s not in a guidebook. Spend as much time in the water as you can from a please, thank you, Mahalo, Aloha. Act like you were at somebody’s house would be my best advice to you. Like somebody invited you over, act like that. 

Bryan: That’s a great way to sum it up. Jonathan. Is there anything else about the Wesson that maybe we should be aware of or excited about? 

Jonathan: The number one reason why anybody should come to this hotel. The food will be great. The beverages would be great. The service is great, but the people that work here are awesome. I mean, they’re unbelievable.

We have people, it’s not uncommon to go anywhere around here where somebody worked here for 35 or 40 years. They’ve had their entire life. Their entire career has been based here. Yeah. I’ve never met a group of humans that I like more than the group of humans that are in this building.

They are lovely. They are wonderful. They are family. We fight, we argue, we make up. But when it comes to guests, the things that we do better than anybody else I feel is the stuff that’s free. We’re kind and we’re nice and we want to make sure that you have a great time and we’d go out of our way to ensure that you have an experience, not a vacation. 

Bryan: That’s definitely been my wife, Al and I are experienced here. Right when we got here, checked in, we talked with Don. 

Jonathan: Don and [34:40 inaudible]. So, her husband [34:41 inaudible] is a one of the landscapers. And she’s fantastic. 

Bryan: She is fantastic. We’ve had a 15-minute conversation about… Well Jonathan, thank you so much for coming on Hawaii best today. How can people get connected with the Westin Maui? 

Jonathan: Obviously we have a website, under www.westend.com or at www.westendkaanapali.com. We’re on Instagram. We’ve got even our, we have three parents. We have a black Swan, they all have Instagram pages.

So Keoki, Kioni, Newman, the black Swan, they all have Instagram. And it really is a blind bird. I thought it was a black duck and apparently, it’s a Swan. Big bites, but anyways, Newman is great. So, we have social media and you Google the hotel and again, we have, we have a bunch of fun stuff happening for the next four or five months.

And then we have a big kick off with Sangs restaurant being completed in June of 2020. So definitely check us out. We have a lot of fun. Come see me personally. I’ve got a, if you like to drink or eat, I know a guy. 

Bryan: Very good. Thank you so much. 

Jonathan: Thank you for having me.



Bryan Murphy
Bryan Murphy

Bryan Murphy, owner of Hawaii’s Best Travel, is a certified Hawaii destination expert from the Hawaii Visitors Bureau. He actively participates in the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau as a member and has a strong educational background focused on local culture and sustainability. As the host of “Hawaii’s Best Travel,” a top-30 US travel podcast, Bryan combines his years of experience with valuable insights. He connects with a broad online community, reaching nearly half a million people, and offers a richer, more responsible way to experience Hawaii.