Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightWhen Nobu Lanai opened last December, it marked the first time celebrated chef Nobu Matsuhisa had partnered with Four Seasons to open a resort-based restaurant.

That collaboration broke further ground when officials started a vegetable garden on the Hawaiian island of Lanai this spring to supply fresh produce for the restaurant, a first not only for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts but also for the Nobu chain.

ShaneNelsonJust 140 square miles in size, the island of Lanai is certainly no stranger to agriculture. After its purchase by James Dole in 1922, the island spent much of the 20th century as a dedicated pineapple plantation.

As labor costs increased, however, Dole moved pineapple production overseas and Lanai began its transition to a tourism-based economy, constructing two resorts in the mid-1980s known today as the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, the Lodge at Koele and the oceanfront Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, which is home to Nobu Lanai.

Despite the island’s not so distant link to large-scale agricultural production, Tom Roelens, the general manager for Four Seasons Resorts Lanai, said neither property has ever used a great deal of Lanai-grown ingredients in its restaurants simply because there wasn’t much being produced on the island.

“In general, about 65% of all the ingredients that we use at the properties today are coming from the state of Hawaii,” said Roelens, noting that the bulk of that Aloha State produce comes from farms on Maui, the Big Island of Hawaii and Oahu.

According to Roelens, the Nobu garden, which is a partnership with two Lanai farmers, is a first step toward boosting the amount of Lanai-grown ingredients the hotels serve in their food and beverage outlets.

“Hopefully, we’ll have the majority of the vegetables for the Nobu restaurant coming from the Lanai garden by the end of this year,” he said, adding that the goal is for 80% to 90% of the outlet’s veggies to be grown on the island by December.

The shift in sourcing philosophy follows Larry Ellison’s purchase of about 98% of Lanai, along with the two Four Seasons properties, in June 2012 for a reported $500 million. In an October 2012 interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, the Oracle founder and CEO said he hoped to “turn Lanai into a model for sustainable enterprise.”

“We are going to have organic farms all over the island,” Ellison added.

Roelens echoed those comments at a Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) luncheon about Lanai held at the Hawaii Prince Hotel in Waikiki last week.

“So why did Larry Ellison buy Lanai,” he said to a ballroom filled with tourism industry stakeholders. “Well, it’s really a compelling opportunity to explore sustainability.”

Along with the substantial increase of Lanai-grown produce on Nobu Lanai’s daily menu, Roelens said Four Seasons plans to offer an exclusive amenity line for the island’s two properties also made with Lanai-grown ingredients, another first for the hotel company.

Called simply Aina, which means land in Hawaiian, the amenity line will include in-room moisturizers, shampoo, hair conditioner and artisanal soaps made with kukui nut, plumeria and awapuhi ginger.

According to Roelens, the line is now in the testing phase and wouldn’t initially be produced on Lanai, which is home to about 3,200 residents today, but the main ingredients would all be grown and harvested there.

Roelens said he hopes to have the amenities in Four Seasons Lanai Resort rooms by the middle of 2014.
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