Nearly 25 years ago, four Maui friends pooled their savings, formed a partnership and bought the Old Lahaina Luau from one of the island's largest ocean recreation companies. Investor Michael Moore said he recognized the product's potential despite a relatively rocky start.
"We were lucky to do 100 people," Moore said. "We had many nights where we did 40 to 50 people, [but] we saw these guests were really responding to something. It was that we were doing this cultural entertainment.
"We were trying to be true to the culture while still being entertaining, having fun and having a Hawaiian party," he added.
That commitment to Hawaiian culture continues to distinguish the product today.
According to Julie Yoneyama, director of employee and community relations, the Old Lahaina Luau's focus on Hawaiian history, without incorporating many of the Polynesian elements found at other luaus, is a big part of the show's success.
"I think travelers really want to know more about where they are visiting now," Yoneyama said. "They really want to learn something about where they're visiting vs. just doing all the touristy things."
The performance does feature some Tahitian elements, but those are linked to the early Polynesian migration to the Hawaiian islands. A kahiko, or ancient Hawaiian hula, performance follows with traditional chanting and dance implements before tribute is paid to King David Kalakaua, the regent who rescued hula from near extinction during the missionary period of the mid-to-late 1800s.
Guests awaiting a Samoan fire knife performance have, unfortunately, been booked at the wrong show, Yoneyama said.
"Agents really need to ask their clients what they want, because some kids come thinking, 'I want to see the fire,'" she said.
Offering customers a Hawaii-focused performance certainly doesn't seem to have hurt the bottom line. Leona Nakaahiki, Pleasant Holidays' vice president of sales for Hawaii, said the show, offered seven nights a week, has never been more popular.
"The Old Lahaina Luau is probably the most sought-after luau there is," she said. "And sometimes they're sold out months in advance."
Admission to the luau is $95.83 for adults, $64.58 for children 12 and younger. Visit www.oldlahainaluau.com.