In the past year, we've seen some of Maui and Lahaina's top restaurants abruptly close their doors and bid their employees and loyal customers farewell. It is no secret that the food service business is one of the toughest of all to survive. It takes acute wisdom to withstand the horrendous attrition rate of restaurants big and small but, here on Maui - particularly in Lahaina - it is an even more formidable challenge.
Rob Thibaut and Sandy Saxten were up for this challenge.
After their college days, Thibaut at U.C. Santa Barbara and Saxten at Stanford University and Hastings College of Law, the pair developed a friendship that would last their lifetimes. They decided to "see the world" and traveled through Europe in an experience that would influence their lives - and the lives of many, many others - forever. During that journey, they discovered a common attraction to food and, moreover, restaurants.
Upon returning to the U.S., they signed on with the leadership group of the Rusty Scupper restaurant chain. After seven years of success with the Rusty Scupper, Thibaut and Saxten sold their interest with their eyes set in the direction of the Hawaiian Islands - to Lahaina, Maui, to be exact.
In 1977, they opened Kimo's Restaurant at the water's edge along Front Street of the historic town. The venue quickly gained popularity as the flagship locale for the newly formed TS Restaurants. Today, over 37 years later, the company the young entrepreneurs founded operates 13 eateries in prime locations in Hawaii and California and stands as one of the top businesses in both states.
TS Restaurants flourished in the boom years of the 1980s, and the success continued to and through the end of the century. Tragedy struck, however, when Thibaut passed away in 1998 after 20 years of sterling leadership alongside his friend and business partner Saxten.
Sandy stayed the course after Rob's death, and the company mission statement to, "Have fun, make money with aloha," continued. TS Restaurants gained a sterling reputation in all of its locales as a positive business organization that, indeed, operated with sincere aloha for management partners, employees, guests and in the communities they supported.
Thibaut and Saxten had set a precedence of integrity rarely seen in the heretofore business world. They based their leadership on compassion and respect for their fellow management partners and employees, and a sincere attention to a quality experience for their guests in the natural warmth and beauty of unique locations. It is no coincidence that all employees of TS Restaurants are trained to end conversations with guests with a sincere "aloha."
Generations of Maui families have worked for the company and have found a profitable and enjoyable pathway to happiness here on the Valley Isle. I, for one, worked for ten years at one of the restaurants here on the West Side. I proposed to my wife of 30 years there, and we have raised four children and purchased a home here as well. All four of our kids have worked for TS Restaurants, and one of the boys came back to Maui after finishing college and signed on at Leilani's On The Beach about four years ago. He's the bar manager there now and was recently able to purchase his own home in Lahaina right next door to mom and dad.
About a month ago, Saxten passed away in San Diego due to complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 68 years old and left behind his wife, Dana; their children Jack, Graham and Susie; and four grandchildren.
To the Saxten family, we send our most sincere aloha. Please know that he will be remembered as a gentleman of compassion and vision that provided a pathway to true happiness for so many - and for this we are ever grateful. May God's peace surround you always.