For 22 long years while residing at Maui, a simple chef named Mark Ellman and his beautiful wife Judy, along with their daughters Michelle, Ariana and Tina, have opened up a chain of restaurants in Hawaii. The restaurants Mala Ocean Tavern, Maui Tacos, and Penne Pasta Cafe are all the fruits of the family’s hard work and dedication.
Before all the success, Mark was originally working in a Calabasas-based Mexican restaurant as a cook, while Judy was a bartender. It was love that brought them together, and from this love their pioneer restaurant in Sherman Oaks known as Cuisine Cuisine was born. Italian cuisine was their main offerings, with their homemade pasta gaining them both great friends and reputation. Not too long after that, they needed to move to Colorado in order to get better environment, but they found the place too cold, which is why they decided to finally move to Hawaii in 1985. It was in Maui that they found a place they can call home.
Two years after arriving at Maui, the couple did not waste any time and opened up the now famous Avalon Restaurant and Bar located at downtown Lahaina. It was in this time that Mark created a chain of Pacific Rim Cuisine, in which eleven skilled chefs joined him to assemble what is now known as the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Movement. It was in this revolutionary body that granted each chef their own chapter and a delectable array of recipes.
After quite some time, they were feeling the cravings for Mexican food from their place in Los Angeles, which is why in 1993 they started opening up small taco stands named Maui Tacos. They were able to add eight more taco stands all over the three islands of Hawaii, with a concoction of Mexican and Maui cuisines. All their meals were so affordable, that no meal was beyond $8.95. Seeing the success of their Maui Tacos, they decided to focus here more and ultimately decided to close down Avalon.
Mark Ellman did not want his Italian heritage to go down the drain, and in 2001, Penne Pasta Cafe came to life. It is here in Penne Pasta, which is now in its 6th year, where Mark and his customers get to enjoy savoury roast chicken, fresh island fish, lamb osso bucco, salads, and of course, what is Italian cuisine without those paper-thin pizzas and “al dente” pastas? Mala Ocean Tavern was not too far behind, opening up in 2005, and is mainly offering Pacific Rim and Mediterranean cuisine – even a few Latin-themed dishes.
One of the secrets of Mala Ocean Tavern was in the standards of Mark and Judy in hiring their employees – this is also very evident even in Penne Pasta and Maui Tacos. The couple’s business partners, Sergio and Pepe, have worked well as a team in providing excellent management in their food chains. The restaurants would also not be what it is today if not for GM Lisa Chappel and Master Chef Gregory Denton, who are both considered the restaurant rock stars.
Lisa’s charms and savvy has brought about exceptional personnel and customer relations, while chef Denton’s dedication and love for cooking has given life and unique taste to all his dishes, especially his soups and sauces. He is a very aggressive guy, always bringing new ideas to the table and ready for any challenge. It is for this reason that the couple wants to help him open up his own place too, where they know he can be far more successful. It has been the couple’s objective to always make people happy with their great food, which is made only from the freshest and healthy organic ingredients.
The couple also enjoys sitting by the Mala Wharf – a well-known pier, especially to sailors, famous for its view of the whaling town Lahaina. In Hawaii, Mala means garden and simply gazing at the breathtaking views of the ocean and the Molokai and Lanai islands can easily blow you away. It is from this place that the couple got the name for one of their restaurant, which is Mala – a place they consider to be their own little heaven on Earth. There is so much to enjoy – the inspiring stories, the sumptuous dishes and the warm and relaxing ambiance of Maui.