When Mari Howe was first invited to work on the beverage program at Pacific’o on the Beach, there were only three cocktails on the menu. After Qiana and Michele Di Bari joined as co-owners and managing partners, Pacific’o was primed for a reimagining of its drink menu. The goal was to develop new cocktails and beverages using ingredients from O’o farm, the restaurant’s 8.5 acres of land that produces fruits and vegetables, which are also used in the dishes. Howe saw this as the perfect opportunity for herself, since the restaurant she previously worked at was on a farm-driven plantation.
Located on the island of Maui in Hawaii, Pacific’o has been around since 1993. It provides guests with a close-up beach view of Lahaina and offers sophisticated cuisine such as Blackened Fresh Catch and Wagyu Beef Short Ribs. O’o farm is located 25 miles away from the restaurant. Sitting 3,500 feet above sea level on the misting slopes of Haleakalā volcano, O’o farm supplies more than 50 crops to the restaurant including vegetables, fruit, herbs, coffee beans, tea, honey, eggs, and olive oil. After two years of being part of the Pacific’o team, Howe is implementing ingredients from the farm into Pacific’o’s cocktails in innovative ways.
What was your approach when creating the new bar menu for Pacific’o on the Beach?
The approach was essentially letting the farms come to us and creating a cocktail that changed daily and sometimes weekly, depending on what was seasonal and available. Sometimes we would just find ways to utilize things—I started doing these farm cocktails and maybe for a week, we would run it, and the staff would get a chance to taste it and sell it to their guests. Then we get feedback and the farm cocktails that were very popular and that the guests really enjoyed were the ones that ended up going on the menu. From a three-cocktail menu, we slowly built by adding the farm cocktails and keeping the ones that were the big hits. That was essentially how I built that cocktail menu in the beginning, just kind of little by little adding to it and keeping the ones that people really liked.
What are examples of using ingredients from O’o farm in the cocktail menu?
One drink that became a part of the menu is our Butterfly Effect. We were getting a lot of lemongrass from our farm. And I was like, oh—that’s one thing that’s always in season and very abundant. We would get so much sometimes that we didn’t even know what to do with it, so we took the lemongrass and made lemongrass syrup. We did fresh ginger and lemongrass and then we use the tops of the lemongrass for garnish. We also had some local butterfly pea blossoms that one of our farmers brought [that] we steep into a tea and use as the float. It was definitely popular when we ran it as [an LTO, and] we ended up putting it on the menu permanently.
How does Pacific’o prevent food waste in its restaurant?
What’s really cool is the kitchen uses the lemongrass for the curry, and when we take the nice lemongrass for the garnish, we clean them up and trim them so they look beautiful on the drink, and the uglier ones are just used in the food because it’s getting boiled into a curry anyway. We’ll kind of return the scraps, if you will. And then the base of the lemongrass we blend and turn it into this lemongrass syrup that goes in the cocktail. We’re kind of utilizing it a few different ways.
We’ve even taken it so far as after blending it into the syrup, we would strain that pulp and steep it into a tea and then use that for another drink. The same drink also has fresh ginger. But once you’re done with the pulp, you can actually squeeze out more juice and then take that pump and steep it into a tea with hot water. Let it sit for about 10 minutes. Now you’ve got three uses for that ginger, and you can make another cocktail. We did a punch [with] fresh pineapple and cinnamon, [and] it had ginger tea is kind of like the base. And then we did two different rums to make it into a nice cocktail. After basically making one syrup, we’ll use the scraps for a different cocktail.
What is the history of O’o farm, and what was your first reaction when you learned about the farm?
When I spoke to the owner about the farm the first time I went there, I felt like a kid in a candy shop, there were just so many beautiful fruits and vegetables and flowers. And you know, I remember asking him like, what restaurants do you sell to? And he’s like, ‘Oh, just our own restaurant.’ And I was like, really? This 8-acre farm just for Pacific’o? I guess back then they were only really using it for the food, but no one was utilizing it for the cocktail program. He said they were having a hard time finding quality organic produce on the island, so they decided to start growing their own. But that farm just blossomed; I think it was when they bought it, there were a few coffee and citrus trees at the time. Now they’ve got rows and rows of lettuce. They’ve got coffee plants where we get our organic coffee that we roast and use in not only our coffee drinks but in our summer teas. They have edible flowers that are gorgeous for garnishes, and they even have olive trees, which you wouldn’t even think would grow in Maui, but you know, they make olive oil and there are bees on the farm where they cultivate their own honey.
It’s really interesting, how this little 8-acre plot has just grown tremendously since they started it. They even have an orchard of apples and little farm nectarines. Living on Maui, you don’t even realize some of these things grow here but since the elevation is a bit higher, they’re able to have a nice variety.