It’s especially pleasing to encounter young entrepreneurs successfully pursuing their passion. Such is the case with Down the Hatch in Lahaina—a modern surfer dive lounge serving fresh, local food and drinks. Owners Javier Barberi, Dave Fincher, and Julian Bonfardin, all longtime Maui residents with Georgia roots, are bringing their brand of Southern aloha to the west side dining scene.
Located in the center courtyard of The Wharf Cinema Center, Down the Hatch (DTH) offers something for every palate, from Hawaiian-style kalbi ribs, to a lobster & crab stuffed grilled cheese sandwich, to Southern staples like the Louisiana po’ boy sandwich and chicken & waffles. DTH is serving up the freshest fish & the best seafood on Maui. And their crew of experienced, longtime Maui bartenders will make just about any cocktail you want.
Javier opened his original Lahaina business—Breakwall Shave Ice Co.—on Prison St. in 2012. When the opportunity arose to open DTH in the summer of 2015, he moved Breakwall right next door, and snagged lifelong friend Dave, and new friend Julian, as partners. “I’m from Georgia, like Javi and Dave, but I didn’t know them back then,” says Julian. “I met Dave in college—we were roommates. We both studied hotel and restaurant management. The stars aligned, and we all ended up on Maui and found this opportunity. We took a leap of faith, and everything has been great so far.”
Originally from Mexico, Javier was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He has been in the hospitality business for 17 years, and helped open restaurants at the Westin’s Ka‘anapali Ocean Resort Villas. He serves as DTH’s general manager. Dave has travelled far and wide to hone his restaurant expertise. He serves as kitchen and restaurant manager. Julian grew up in suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, and was most recently senior catering & convention services manager at the Grand Wailea Resort. He manages the bar, and shares management of the restaurant with Dave.
The three partners enjoy the freedom of owning their own business, as opposed to working in corporate positions. “In a corporate environment, there’s always someone saying, ‘No, you can’t do that,’” Julian laments. “Now we just take a vote to decide things. Since there’s three of us, there’s a built-in tiebreaker.”
At DTH, you order at the counter (another nod to Southern tradition), get a number, and find a seat, where your food will be delivered by a friendly DTH staff member. You can order your first round of drinks at the counter. If you want to continue drinking, you start a tab at the bar.
Seating is at butcher-block style tables under palapas, at the high-top surf-board communal table, or at the sleek bar that’s made from zinc. “We’re the only bar on Maui with a zinc countertop,” says Javier proudly. “We chose it because we wanted a rustic-meets-modern look. Zinc has a natural patina, and it wears nicely over time. It’s cool to see the bar evolve—it’s like a living thing.”
And speaking of the bar, DTH’s owners were fortunate to land bartender extraordinaire Adam Rio as house mixologist. “I’ve been friends with Javi for a long time,” Adam says. “I was at Mala Ocean Tavern for about five years, and felt I needed a change. Javi invited me to come to DTH and work on some fresh ideas. It’s been awesome. I have a lot of creative freedom, and it’s an opportunity to showcase my skills.”
Adds Javier: “Adam’s been incredibly creative here at DTH. He’s even done a kiawe-smoked Old Fashioned, where he took kiawe wood and blow-torched it, put the glass on top of the wood so the smoke would collect inside, built a cocktail, flipped the glass over, and poured it in. It’s a fun, local twist on a classic drink. Plus, it’s impressive when you light a blowtorch at the bar. It really gets everyone’s attention.”
Rounding out DTH’s leadership team is kitchen manager and head chef Michael Seacrest, another “Southern boy.” “Michael had always been wanting to come to Maui,” Julian says. “Lucky for us, he was between positions last summer, and he jumped at the opportunity to join us at DTH.”
All this talk about food and beverages has made Susan and me mighty hungry! We begin with Lava Lava Shrimp ($12.50), which comes piled high in a stainless-steel martini glass. The shrimp are plump and crunchy, and the house-made spicy lava sauce provides just the right amount of heat. Next, we try the Bacon-N-Sprouts ($7), which may be ordered fried or grilled (we opted for the latter). The halved Brussels sprouts are sprinkled with bacon pieces and drizzled with a balsamic glaze that finishes with a surprisingly sweet note at the end. Both apps have Susan and me rolling our eyes heavenward.
In the meantime, Adam has brought us cocktails he’s customized to our individual preferences. Susan is a tequila fan, so hers is a tequila mule with fresh cilantro, lime, a dash of simple syrup, Herradura Silver tequila, and a splash of ginger liqueur. My concoction is composed of local Ocean vodka, homemade mango lemonade, liliko‘i kombucha, fresh kiwi, and dragon fruit syrup. Both creations are spectacular.
The Spicy Caesar Salad ($11) is amped up with (what else?) bacon, which is combined with Romaine, parmesan, and croutons, and a spicy dressing that doesn’t overpower. Naturally, we have to sample the Lobster & Crab Stuffed Grilled Cheese sandwich ($19.50), which was recently included in Maui Magazine’s Top 100. A mixture of lobster and lump crab is served on lusciously squishy Hawaiian sweet bread, and topped with gooey melted cheese, tomatoes, and cabbage. It’s served with a generous pile of positively addictive shoestring fries.
Having never before tried Chicken & Waffles ($14.50), Susan and I bravely venture into the unknown. We needn’t have worried. First of all, let me say DTH’s chicken & waffles is a visual masterpiece: pieces of uber-crunchy fried chicken are tucked between three layers of waffles that are both fluffy and crispy at the same time. Dollops of DTH’s lava sauce and Southern-style ranch dressing, plus maple syrup and home-style gravy, are all dusted with powdered sugar. The gravy is made using Michael’s Southern mama’s recipe, and it’s so delicious it you could dip a rubbah slippah into it and it would still taste good!
Every week, DTH offers a variety of specials: Thursday is “Industry Night,” with 50% off food from the late-night menu, beginning at 10pm, plus great deals on beverages; Friday is “Fresh Squeezed Night,” featuring a new customized cocktail menu by Adam Rio beginning at 8pm; Saturday is “Flip Night” (flip a coin, call it right, and receive 50% off your tab); and, coming soon, is “Trivia Bingo Night” on Sunday, with $100 DTH gift certificates in the offing for winners. DTH also has the longest Happy Hour in Lahaina, running from 3 to 7pm, with 20% off all appetizers.