Displaced to Their Maui Restaurant, They Created a Hub for Fire Victims

Photo for The Washington Post by Tamir Kalifa
People stand in line outside Joey’s Kitchen in Napili, Hawaii, on Maui, on Aug. 21, 2023, to pick up free venison chili for dinner.

LAHAINA, Hawaii – For weeks since the horrific Maui fires, Joey and Juvy Macadangdang have slept at their restaurant in Napili Plaza, about eight miles up the road from their Lahaina home. And for all those days, they have operated a kitchen for the masses, feeding anyone who needs a meal.

The couple has given out anywhere from 300 to 800 plates a day to fellow displaced families, aid workers, firefighters and passersby. Their space served as a makeshift shelter, too, housing as many as 20 people at once in the days after the fire.

“It’s all I can do. I have to do something,” Joey Macadangdang told The Washington Post. He gestured toward the line that snaked out the door and down the sidewalk, and smiled. “It’s ’cause we have really good salad today. People needed something fresh.”

They had mahi mahi, too. When that ran out, they had steak, shrimp and pork chops. There was always more to give, according to Joey.

Like many West Maui residents, the couple launched into action to serve the community’s needs, even while battling for their own. The inferno that left much of Lahaina unrecognizable spared the Macadangdangs’ home, but rendered it unlivable. Power is still out, the water is toxic and the entire town’s air quality is under scrutiny. Meanwhile, many of their friends, neighbors and co-workers lost everything. Seeing the town’s widespread devastation is much too difficult, they said.

With so many people cast out, the Macadangdangs’ restaurant, Joey’s Kitchen, has been home for now, and everyone is welcome, they said.

It all began the night of the fire.

Photo for The Washington Post by Tamir Kalifa
Joey Macadangdang, the chef and owner of Joey’s Kitchen in Napili, Hawaii, on Maui, takes a minute to rest at his restaurant after serving dinner for the 14th night in a row, on Aug. 21, 2023.

Joey and Juvy fled from home to their restaurant that night. Some employees and friends trickled in, shaken from the blaze and seeking a safe space – Joey’s Kitchen was one of the first to come to mind, they told The Post.

As the fire raged that night, countless people gathered in the plaza’s parking lot, Joey said. He decided to fire up his gas stove. Power was out, but a friend turned his car’s headlights on and parked directly outside the restaurant’s window. Others picked up flashlights.

Soon, the restaurant, which they’ve had for six years, was buzzing. The night was too much of a blur to remember how many people were fed – but Joey knows they made pancit, kalbi ribs, garlic rice and chow fun, he said.

Joey, Juvy, some of his employees and their families, and stranded strangers slept on the floor of the restaurant that night.

“And then in the morning, we woke up and made breakfast,” Joey said – spam, eggs and rice.

They haven’t stopped since.

More than two weeks later, the urgency that compelled that first night’s meal has waned. The relief hub that had sprung up at the plaza, outside the restaurant, was set to close soon. The displaced friends, families and strangers who spent nights at the restaurant have found temporary housing. It’s just Joey and Juvy overnight there now.

Still, the restaurant remains lively with employees, random volunteers and donations that keep the operation running with a methodical efficiency. Around 8:30 p.m. Monday, Jenna Orosco, an employee turned volunteer, doled out perfectly rounded scoops of white rice into 24 takeout containers – the last batch of the night. Her mom, Jenny Orosco, also an employee turned volunteer, spooned kalua-style pork over the rice. They bounced to the Hawaiian music blasting over the speakers. Joey and Juvy insisted everyone around take a plate home, wherever that might now be.

By about 9:30 p.m., all the takeout boxes were gone. The music stopped, and the restaurant began clearing out.

As the bustling day eases into a quiet night, Joey and Juvy grow somber. The harsh realities they must face in the days and weeks to come have begun to set in, Joey said.

There are too many questions. He’s unsure about his business’ long-term future, and how he can maintain pay and insurance for his employees. He doesn’t know when he will be able return to his home. He doesn’t know if returning makes sense – seeing Lahaina in ruins is unbearable, he said. Often, he paces instead of sleeping at night.

“Sometimes, I start crying. Sometimes, I start thinking about what I’m going to do the next day,” Joey said. “Sometimes, I think about when I’m going to wake up from this nightmare.”

His delivery van, parked behind the restaurant, now serves as his bedroom. He keeps the door flung open to feel the breeze and see the stars. His wife sleeps on a cot inside the restaurant.

Friends have offered them places to stay. They always consider it, he said, but every night, they wind up staying at the restaurant instead.

It doesn’t feel right to sleep elsewhere. “It doesn’t feel like home,” Juvy said. For now, the restaurant is as close as they can get.