Episode 106: A Taste of Resilience: Exploring Tutu’s Pantry Post Maui Fires

by | Sep 13, 2023

Ever wondered what makes Hawaii a dream destination for food lovers, or how one can indulge in responsible tourism while relishing the local tastes?

Dive deep into a flavorful conversation with Ellie Salazar, the heart and soul behind Tutu’s Pantry, as she unveils the hidden gems and secrets of Hawaiian cuisine, all while emphasizing the importance of shopping small and supporting local communities.

By tuning into this episode, you will embark on a culinary journey and grasp Ellie’s unique perspective on responsible tourism. Let’s embark on this journey!

Don’t miss out! Hit that play button now and get ready to be transported to Maui!

Planning a trip to Hawaii? Have any questions? Join our Hawaii’s Best Travel Facebook group here now! It’s the perfect place to ask any questions and to be inspired!
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This post gives general info and isn’t legal or authoritative advice. It helps travelers with tips but can’t replace personal abilities, fitness, experience, or local knowledge. Marine activities have risks; assess conditions and follow local laws.

In today’s episode, I enjoyed talking with the passionate Ellie Salazar. An Argentinian-born, Maui local, Ellie brings a rich tapestry of experiences and flavors to Hawaii, leading the renowned Tutu’s Pantry to its glory. Discover how Ellie’s background and the unique essence of Hawaii intertwine to form a magical blend of culture, taste, and responsible tourism.

The Essence of Tutu’s Pantry

Ellie’s love for Tutu’s Pantry transcends beyond just a business. It’s her passion. With over 600 local products and an emphasis on Hawaii’s beautiful, unique flowers, Tutu’s Pantry captures the essence of the island. From the Hawaiian rose, Lokelani, to the enchanting scents of lumeria and pikake, this is where Hawaii’s heart beats.


Savoring Hawaii: A Culinary Delight

Hawaii, for Ellie, is not just about the picturesque landscapes; it’s a culinary heaven. As a pescatarian, Ellie cherishes the abundant fresh seafood that Hawaii offers.

From mahi mahi to the intoxicating spices, the Hawaiian cuisine, with its diverse influences, resonates deeply with Ellie’s palate. And while Ellie might not miss her native Argentinian cuisine, she adores the blend of flavors Hawaii brings to the table.

Responsible Tourism: The Heartbeat of Travel

Ellie’s insights into responsible tourism are both profound and heartwarming. For her, being a responsible tourist means immersing oneself in the local community, supporting small businesses, and truly understanding the spirit of the place.

Whether shopping at small stores or helping at a local church, Ellie believes in leaving a positive footprint wherever she goes.

Highlights From our Conversation:

  • The origin story behind Tutu’s Pantry and its unique products.
  • Ellie’s personal journey from Argentina to Brazil, and then to Hawaii.
  • Insightful perspectives on responsible tourism and supporting local communities.
  • A sneak peek into Ellie’s favorite eateries on Maui, from the delightful Ekolu to the savory empanadas of an Argentinian food truck.
  • The rise and charm of food trucks on Maui.

Wrap Up

Our chat with Ellie Salazar was nothing short of enlightening. From diving deep into the aromatic world of Tutu’s Pantry to understanding the intricacies of responsible tourism, this episode is a treasure trove of insights for anyone enchanted by Hawaii and its many flavors.

Eager to explore Hawaii like never before? Dive right into the episode and let Ellie transport you to Maui!

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106-Tutus Pantry_01

[00:00:00] Bryan Murphy: Coming up on Hawai'i's Best. Some of

[00:00:02] Ellie Salazar: my vendors are in Hana and their business completely died, 100%. So. Kihei was very affected, Kihei Wailea, the east side, Hana, so we were all very impacted. Obviously, you know, we didn't lose our homes, but we were affected as well. Aloha! Welcome to Hawaii's Best. Here, you'll learn what to know before traveling as we discover Hawaiian culture, local businesses, and the experiences that make Hawaii one of the most incredible places in the world.

[00:00:38] And now... Your host, Brian Murphy.

[00:00:42] Bryan Murphy: Aloha. Thank you so much for joining me on today's episode today. We are joined by Ellie Salazar, who is the owner of Tutu's Pantry in Kihei, which is in South Maui. You'll definitely want to stick around for our entire conversation because today we discuss Ellie's perspective on responsible tourism and what it means to support [00:01:00] local communities when visiting Hawaii, especially Maui during this time.

[00:01:04] And towards the end of our conversation, Ellie gives us her favorite spots to eat on Maui from the delightful ikolu to empanadas. From an Argentinian food truck. So stick around for that and she's gonna give so many more Spots that you can add to your list as you're planning your trip to Maui And if you happen to be joining us for the very first time welcome.

[00:01:26] Thank you so much for Hitting play and check out the podcast throughout the entire month of September. We are dedicating to highlighting local businesses on the island of Maui and as well as some community voices to talk about Travel to maui what the situation is like on maui and help shed some light on how to travel to maui Responsibly if you're going to be doing that in the next few months or the next little while I want to give you the review of the week and thank you so much for leaving your reviews on apple podcast It really [00:02:00] helps other people who love hawaii As much as you'll be able to find this show and these conversations, so that this week's review comes from username Rybogs on Apple Podcasts, and it reads, I highly recommend using this podcast to help you plan your next Hawaiian vacation, or if you just miss Hawaii and want to hear them talk about all your favorite places so you can dream about it.

[00:02:26] So thank you so much for leaving that review. And if you're listening on Apple Podcasts right now, and if you found value in the show, thank you so much for considering to leave a rating. Review. So today on the podcast, Tutu's Pantry, or Grandma's Pantry, brings back that familiar feeling that instantly takes you back to childhood.

[00:02:45] Our guest today, Eli Salazar, has taken that very essence and turned it into a thriving local store in Kihei. Born in Argentina, Eli has made Maui home since the mid 90s. It wasn't until 2009 when she breathed life [00:03:00] into Tutu's Pantry, which is a sanctuary of Maui made goodies ranging from one of a kind jams and butters to savory sauces and seasonings, and even bath and body products.

[00:03:10] Ellie's dedication is simple yet profound, keep it local. Every product on the shelf of Tutu's Pantry tells the story of Hawaii and represents other local businesses within Maui County. That includes Molokai, Lanai, and the island of Maui. Visiting Maui soon. Be sure to stop by Tutu's Pantry. You can find them at the Rainbow Mall in KeHE right below the Fame Cafe Ole restaurant.

[00:03:35] And if you're not at Maui, no worries. You can shop on tutu's pantry.com and be sure to get connected on Instagram at tutu's pantry for daily dose of island flavors. Alright, so let's go ahead and let's head on over and let's talk story with Ellie. from Tutu's Pantry.[00:04:00]

[00:04:01] All right, Ellie. All right. All right. Let's do this. Thanks so much for coming on. First of all, how are you doing and how are you holding up?

[00:04:09] Ellie Salazar: Hey, Brian, thanks for having me. I am doing pretty well considering everything. The amount of love that is surrounding us is pretty amazing. And I think that that's what's keeping myself and my employees and my vendors and my the little community that surrounds me.

[00:04:30] It's keeping us together because if one thing happened throughout all this is just the amount of unity that we are seeing. So, uh, yeah, things considering are going well. We are keeping our spirits high.

[00:04:44] Bryan Murphy: It's one of those events that's kind of like what was life like pre Lahaina fire and now what's life like post and it's kind of one of those line in the sand.

[00:04:55] What was, I mean, we're only talking a matter of weeks, [00:05:00] maybe a month. Uh, from the time that this airs, but pre fire, maybe you can just paint a picture of what things were like. I mean, we're, we're kind of ending winding down the summer. How was the summer season for you? Maybe share a little bit about that.

[00:05:14] Ellie Salazar: We actually retail had a bit of a decline here on Maui this past summer. It wasn't as good as the summer prior 2022, but overall it felt like we were completely out and done with, you know, the crash of a pandemic that really affected the islands. My business personally shut down for a whole year. We were doing a little bit of online, but the retail part was shut down.

[00:05:46] Finally, this summer, it had felt like we were completely out of the weeds and, you know, everything was sort of. Going back to a, a stable, I wouldn't say normal because nothing is [00:06:00] normal these days, but, um, more of a stable, I think that everyone was feeling stability, but also feeling like going back to that hustle, hustle, hustle, you know, produce more and more and more, but overall, there was a sense of stability, if that's You know, if I have to narrow it down to one word.

[00:06:20] Bryan Murphy: Yeah. Okay. For people who may not be familiar with Tutu's Pantry, maybe talk a little bit about its origin story and how it all started.

[00:06:30] Ellie Salazar: So started in June, 2009. I wasn't born here, but I've been here since 1995. Always in Kihei, always in Maui. And this is my home. I absolutely love this island with my whole heart.

[00:06:49] So I've developed quite a bit of a community here. This is where my second family is, I should say. So when I started Tutu's Pantry, I [00:07:00] was coming out of the hotel timeshare industry. I had 10 years in hotels prior to, and I wanted to start something that would just really give back to my, the special community that I have here.

[00:07:18] It all started from a girlfriend of mine asking. If you would open a little business, what would you do? And without hesitation, and also without any prior experience, I said, I would open a little shop that had jams and spices, local flavors, flavors of our region. She, you know, looked at me and said, well, that sounds like a pretty good idea.

[00:07:42] I drew a bit of a quick concept and the soul of it. I always saw my grandma, my grandparents had a pasta factory in Argentina growing up. So that was the soul of it. It was, you know, the, the grandma's [00:08:00] pantry, all the yummy spices, seasonings, that grandma had and, and cookies and streets. Cause she was really great at that.

[00:08:08] Always having like something delicious for the grandchildren. So that's where the name came, Tutu's Pantry, which is, you know, in Hawaiian, Tutu, grandma. But I don't have a culinary background. I just have passion for food and that's how it all started.

[00:08:24] Bryan Murphy: Love that. Yeah. I don't have a culinary background either, but I do have a passion for food.

[00:08:29] Yeah. So yeah, absolutely.

[00:08:31] Ellie Salazar: Exactly. The, you know, flavors. There's something so magical about scents of food and flavors that can really take you back to a place or a time and, and also it can bring people together when you cook with your family and you enjoy that meal. So there's something really magical about spices and flavors.

[00:08:52] And how it can all, you know, bring a family or a group of friends together.

[00:08:57] Bryan Murphy: Yeah. And depending on whatever part of [00:09:00] the world you travel to, I mean, that's, you know, culture is food and food is culture and being on Maui, what are some of the flavors and spices that you would say kind of represent the community?

[00:09:14] Oh my

[00:09:15] Ellie Salazar: gosh, we have some of the most. It's unique, unbelievable flavors. Top one, I have to say is Lilikoi butter. Everybody that comes here looks for Lilikoi butter because it has become a, such a popular product and Lilikoi in Hawaiian is fashion fruit. So it's literally a butter. It's a passion fruit butter and the ingredients are super basic.

[00:09:41] It's passion fruit juice, sugar and butter. So picture a lemon curd, like an English lemon curd. It's a similar flavor. It's a spread for toast, for pancakes, but also really great paired with seafood, with fish. It's a very unique [00:10:00] flavor. It's a burst of flavor in your mouth. So the amount of creativity that comes from, from the islands here, when it comes to not, not just food products, but bath and body and arts, it's, it's pretty unique.

[00:10:14] It's something that you don't see anywhere else, nowhere else in the world. I have been able to find the flavors. And

[00:10:22] Bryan Murphy: whereabouts are you located? I know you mentioned in Kihei, but we're

[00:10:25] Ellie Salazar: maybe a little bit. We are located at, uh, Little mall called Rainbow Mall and the Rainbow Mall is towards the south of Kihei.

[00:10:35] So it's off of South Kihei Road and a couple of pretty known restaurants are in the same mall. Cafe Ole is upstairs from us and Maui Thai Bistro. Delicious restaurants. We're right next door to the only health food store in Kihei called Hawaiian Moons. So it's a pretty, it's a great shopping area across from the camp to beach.

[00:10:59] Bryan Murphy: [00:11:00] And how is that community? I know, I mean, all of Maui, all of Hawaii, I mean, all the world has felt the tragedy in Lahaina. And Kihei on the other side of. The island, how is that community doing specifically where you're

[00:11:17] Ellie Salazar: at? Well, tourism completely dropped since the fires because our officials asked all future travel to stop for the time being so they could assess.

[00:11:32] And so, and just tourism completely died the past. To three weeks. Several places have actually including mine. We have altered our hours of operation. Some places are operating with reduced hours. Some restaurants in key. Hey, have completely shut down. And won't reopen until next month. So it [00:12:00] really affected the community.

[00:12:01] The intent was, you know, probably came from a good place of just trying to assess what was going on, but it really affected the whole island for that matter. I mean, I have some of my vendors are in Hana. And their business completely died, 100%. So Kihei was very affected, Kihei Wailea, like I mentioned, you know, the east side, Hana.

[00:12:29] From what I hear from my colleagues, so we were all very impacted, obviously, you know, we didn't lose our homes and businesses, but. We were affected as well. Yeah.

[00:12:44] Bryan Murphy: Well, I just want to take a quick pause from our conversation with Ellie and give you a travel update in regards to travel to Maui. Governor Josh Green announced that the West Maui communities of Kalapali, Napili, Honokowai, and Kapalua will [00:13:00] reopen on October 8th, exactly two months after the wildfires.

[00:13:03] devastated Lahaina. Hawaii residents and visitors are encouraged to visit Maui and support local businesses during this time. So with that travel restrictions to West Maui areas north of Lahaina will be lifted starting October 8th. However, Lahaina remains closed to the public as authorities continue search and cleanup operations following the wildfires.

[00:13:25] Now back to a conversation with Ellie from Tutu's Pantry.

[00:13:33] Your... Store is really unique. I mean your store is is kind of this meta version of supporting local meaning Your storefront tutu's pantry obviously supporting that business but then You represent so many local vendors across really Maui County, Lena'i, Molokai, you know. Correct, yep. So, you mentioned a vendor in Hana, they were [00:14:00] affected because your sales were

[00:14:01] Ellie Salazar: affected.

[00:14:02] Right, well, and they were also affected because they don't get tourism there. So, it's all a ripple effect. You know, I have my responsibility with my community to Continue to produce, continue to sell, continue to showcase all these products and offer these products, not only to Hawaii residents, but to visitors, right?

[00:14:26] So that's my responsibility. If I'm unable to do that, then I'm unable to buy their products. I'm unable to support the way that I have been supporting. So it's all a ripple effect. So that's what happened. This particular I actually supply a couple of companies. I supply the Travassa Hotel with my products that I manufacture with the Tutu's Pantry brand.

[00:14:48] And I supply Hana Farms, which is a lovely place in Hana, with a little restaurant, and they have a shop, so I buy their products, they buy my [00:15:00] products, and they just don't have any tourism at the moment, so. Yeah, it's, it's, it's been a ripple effect, definitely. And

[00:15:08] Bryan Murphy: I bet there's people that come year after year and like, Oh, hey, they got to stop at Tutu's Pantry.

[00:15:15] Yeah. I've seen those faces, I'm sure.

[00:15:17] Ellie Salazar: Oh, it's so amazing. It's so, it's one of the most beautiful parts of the, I mean, honestly, not because it's a side business, but the whole thing about Tutu's Pantry is beautiful. It's, it's, I sell my neighbor's sauces and candles and soaps and art and so proud of that.

[00:15:38] And then all the relationships we've created throughout these 14 years with visitors that, you know, come regularly every year, every six months, every two years. And we stay in touch. So yeah, it's, it's been a really, just really beautiful business to be a part of. I feel the responsibility to continue it [00:16:00] because aside from supporting the community, there's also the connection with all the, these visitors and, and what we bring to the table, it's really nice to come into the store and we offer samples so you can taste.

[00:16:17] spices and tastes jams and sauces. We have a huge selection of hot sauces that are all made in the Hawaiian islands, and it's just so much fun to seeing people's expressions when they're, you know, tasting different flavors. It's something really unique and magical. Like. Overall, it's a, it's a really fun place to come in and I'd love to continue to provide that.

[00:16:40] Bryan Murphy: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so someone's not on island, you can go to tutuspantry. com and you ship to the continental U S you ship worldwide or how's that work?

[00:16:53] Ellie Salazar: Yeah. We ship worldwide and to the continental U S via the website, it's us [00:17:00] only that you can purchase the shipping. And for international orders because shipping rates change all the time and we do that via email.

[00:17:09] Okay. So, um, you can go onto the website and put all your products in a shopping cart and send us an email and say, Hey, I'm in Switzerland or wherever it is. And then we'll do a quote for the shipping portion. But we ship anywhere.

[00:17:24] Bryan Murphy: Gotcha. Okay. What are some other products that someone can find

[00:17:28] Ellie Salazar: online? The huge selection of hot sauces.

[00:17:32] There are so many unique flavors. One of my favorites is coincidentally by Hana Farms and it's a banana coconut curry. It's amazing. It has just a little heat, but just so much flavor. We have a Kona coffee, chocolate ghost pepper hot sauce that it's unbelievable. Pineapple barbecue sauce, mango curd, pineapple, coconut pancake mixes.

[00:17:59] I [00:18:00] mean, it's just, there's so many, so many incredible flavors. And then aside from the flavors, the bath and body products, a girlfriend of mine actually makes essential oils from flowers and from different herbs. and transforms these into facial hydrosols and body oils and facial oils. It's truly unique products.

[00:18:25] So her company is called Lokelani Essentials. And Lokelani is the name of the, it's a Hawaiian rose. She uses the rose, lamaria, pikake, all these beautiful flowers that we have here in Hawaii. And just an example of some of the really special brands that, uh, we carry at the store. The array is very wide and it's hard to pinpoint.

[00:18:54] Yeah. It's hard to say one.

[00:18:57] Bryan Murphy: Cool. Yeah. Do you miss the [00:19:00] food in Argentina? I

[00:19:01] Ellie Salazar: don't.

[00:19:05] I really don't. My diet is, I would say I'm a pescatarian. So, you know, the, with the amount of fresh seafood that we have here, I have a lot of friends that are fishermen, you know, have access to fresh, Oh no, my money. I use so wonderful that, uh, I don't miss the food in Argentina at all. I was born in Argentina and raised in Brazil.

[00:19:29] Brazilian food is quite rich and unique and diverse as well. So if anything, I miss some things of the Brazilian cuisine, but the Argentinian, not so much the Argentinian cuisine, that's a little bland now that, you know, being in this business and. Having so many amazing spices, I feel like really, I truly love, I love the mix of all the influences here in Hawaii.

[00:19:58] There's influences from [00:20:00] all over here, so it makes it for a really fun cuisine.

[00:20:05] Bryan Murphy: And to maybe expand on that a little bit, you know, you're thinking Brazil, Argentina, being a traveler, what does the term responsible tourism mean to you? And how would you define that? I know it's a big. But I think it could be pretty simple as well, but just want to get your perspective and your thoughts on what responsible tourism, especially during this time, means to you.

[00:20:32] Ellie Salazar: The responsible tourist, if I would have to embody a responsible tourist, so when I go to a place that I I enjoy that I want to go back to, I think that it's important to leave my money in the small community because that's what adds the charm to the place. It's not the, you know, the big box stores or the restaurant chains.

[00:20:59] [00:21:00] It's really where the soul of the place is. It's within, you know, the small producers, the small restaurants. small stores, et cetera. So I think responsible tourism is to, to visit these places and make an effort to shop more at those places than with the big chains, because you can find those big chains anywhere, but really the memories are made with these unique, smaller places that you won't find back home.

[00:21:31] I think that's part of responsible tourism is to actually shop small, shop local everywhere one goes. And a colleague mentioned, and for our particular situation now, maybe see where one can help a little bit. You know, right now our tourism is, I mean, it's a sensitive time. Um, so. If it's within your [00:22:00] wanting to help, there are so many places where one can extend the hand here in Hawaii.

[00:22:05] So if you have a few hours and you want to, you know, reach out to a, an animal shelter or a church that is cooking for people. So I think that falls into that category too. And again, it's a particular situation here on Maui, but overall responsible tourism, I think it's. This should really go in to a place where one visits and spend time in that place truly with the community and not just with your comfort of the big box stores or chain restaurants.

[00:22:44] Bryan Murphy: Yeah, well said. I would love to get your thoughts on. Just with your palate and all the flavors that you work with, what are some of your, maybe top, top three places to eat on

[00:22:59] Ellie Salazar: [00:23:00] Maui? I absolutely love a restaurant that unfortunately they have been closed these last two weeks. It's called a Koulu and it's here in Kihei.

[00:23:14] They have delicious food. It's a really good mix of Pacific Rim. And they also own a restaurant called Nalu's. So they're both located in right in the middle of Kihei at the Ozekas. Um, upstairs from us, Cafe Olay, it's absolutely delicious. And they have great lunch specials. I have some dear friends that own Italian place in Hualea called Mateo's.

[00:23:41] I love Italian food and they make amazing Italian food. Couple of pie places are absolutely delicious. Maui Thai Bistro, which is right across from Tutu's Pantry. And Nutcheries, it's at the Ozeka Mall. Un real Thai food, [00:24:00] absolutely delicious. Josh, I could keep going. There's some really great food trucks now here in Maui.

[00:24:08] Maui has really exploded with food trucks and there's a place called South Maui Gardens that I think houses about, I don't know, 15. different food trucks and there's a huge variety. There's a little bit for everyone. There's even an Argentinian food truck that has empanadas and they're absolutely delicious.

[00:24:30] So, yeah, I go for empanadas there all the time. I heard that recently a vegan food truck went in and they're associated with It was my favorite place in Lahaina called Moku Roots. So they are affiliated somehow with Moku Roots and I gotta go visit. Yeah, there's, there's great food here on Maui. There's absolutely great food.

[00:24:59] Bryan Murphy: Well, Ellie, [00:25:00] how can people find you? You know, we, we mentioned the website, but maybe if you could just reiterate that and anything else and wherever else people can find you as well.

[00:25:09] Ellie Salazar: Yeah, you can follow us on social media and we mostly post on Instagram. We're more active on Instagram and a little bit on Facebook.

[00:25:17] Tutu's Pantry on Instagram and for purchasing tutuspantry. com. Our website has... It's about 600 local products and we ship anywhere and you can call us too. You can reach out and call us at the store or send us an email. Very responsive. We reply right away.

[00:25:39] Bryan Murphy: Great. Ellie, thank you so much for your time and

[00:25:42] Ellie Salazar: coming on.

[00:25:43] Oh, thank you. Thank you, Brian. It's been a pleasure. Awesome. Aloha. Aloha.

[00:25:48] Bryan Murphy: Well, big mahalo to Ellie again for coming on today and a few key takeaways that I just wanted to leave all of us with. And one is the commitment of businesses like Tutu's Pantry in [00:26:00] promoting local products and supporting the community.

[00:26:03] And what's really cool is like she mentioned, all the products that she carries are locally made, locally sourced. So You're welcome. When you're supporting Tutu's Pantry, you're supporting a lot of other Local businesses across Maui County. And the other thing that was a key takeaway for me was the responsibility we all carry as travelers, not just to Hawaii, but anywhere in the world to not only explore, but also to respect and give back.

[00:26:32] to the places we visit and that's the purpose of this podcast is how to actually do that when visiting Hawaii. So I hope that you found value in this and if you want to go deeper into our conversation head over to hawaiibesttravel. com slash episode 106 for all the resources and links that we discussed in today's episode.

[00:26:55] And if you found value in our chat today, don't forget to follow Hawaii's best on [00:27:00] Apple Podcast or Spotify, and it's a great way to stay connected and updated for future episodes. So thanks again for tuning in today, and until next time, be well. Aloha

[00:27:13] Ellie Salazar: Mahalo for listening to this episode of Hawaii's.

[00:27:16] Best to stay up to date on future episodes. Please subscribe and visit us at hava east best travel.com.