Filipino Businesses Destroyed by the Lahaina Fire

Filipino Businesses Destroyed by the Lahaina Fire

Alfredo G. Evangelista | Assistant Editor

Standing amidst the ruins of their family business, R.V.N. Deli Kitchen And Catering, Rogelio Navarro glumly said, “All my equipment is gone. It’s hard to find a place and to borrow money.”

Rogelio Navarro standing in front of remains of his store.
Photo courtesy Navarro ‘Ohana

The business had stood at 840 Waine‘e Street #C-2 (across the street from Foodland, Nagasako and other businesses). “R.V.N. stands for Rogelio, Vangie and Navarro,” explains Vangie Navarro, Rogelio’s wife. “We’ve been in business for about twenty-two years, with seventeen years at that location.”

Just a few stores away in the same complex had been Ilocandia Filipino Store owned and operated by Angel and Evelyn Cabanilla. Ilocandia Filipino Store opened in 2005, with Evelyn taking over from her brother Edward Abut who had operated B&B Store at the same location for a couple of years. Evelyn and her husband used to live in Las Vegas and returned home to run the business.

Angel and Evelyn Cabanilla, proud owners of the Ilocandia store.
Photo courtesy Cabanilla ‘Ohana

The Navarros and Cabanillas hope they can resume their businesses. “I spoke to the daughter of the owner (Donna Walden) and they are hoping to be able to rebuild in one to two years,” Evelyn Cabanilla commented expectantly. “A lot of people do not have jobs,” worried Vangie Navarro.

Rogelio and Vangie Navarro of RVN stand proudly inside their business before the fire.
Photo: Navarro ‘Oahana
Chicharron at Ilocandia Store
Photo courtesy Cabanilla ‘Ohana

As sole proprietors, both the Navarro’s and the Cabanilla’s do not qualify for unemployment insurance. “It’s our sole source of income,” explained Evelyn Cabanilla. Ilocandia Filipino Store was both a fast food and a grocery store. Angel Cabanilla cooked the fast food. “We’re famous for our chicharon, dinakdakan, dinuguan, igado, pancit, pinakbet, and squid adobo,” Evelyn Cabanilla proudly touts. “Our vegetables are from Rogelio Ganay who has a farm by the coffee farm while our fresh fish is from Danny in Kahului. Our frozen food such as bangus is from the Philippines through several Honolulu distributors.”

Rogelio Navarro’s food faire is an international one—breakfasts of omelets, french toast and entrées of shrimp tempura, bbq chicken as well as Filipino favorites of adobo, pork and peas, pancit, pinapaitan, pinakbet, sinigang bangus and fried chicken. “We also have catering every weekend,” states Rogelio Navarro. “I’ve been looking for a catering place. It’s been hard. I went to Maui Mall but they were going to charge over $10,000 a month. I’m worried because there’s not enough money.”

Both the Navarro’s and the Cabanilla’s are also dealing with insurance issues. The Cabanilla’s are reviewing their policy to see if they have replacement income insurance while the Navarro’s are worried if they had adequate and appropriate insurance coverage. Plus the Navarro’s are concerned about their home’s damaged roof. The Cabanilla’s live in Kahana–away from the danger zone.

The Cabanilla’s display their first issue of the Fil-Am Voice
Fil-Am Voice file photo

Evelyn and Angel’s story on Tuesday, August 8 is one of a close call. That morning, Angel went to work at his normal time of 3 a.m. to begin to cook. At about 5 a.m., the power shut down. Evelyn was still at home and because the garage door could not open, she could not leave. “I called my husband to pick me up and he did,” recalls Evelyn Cabanilla. “We went to the store which had no electricity. We stayed for two to three hours but my husband was feeling dizzy because there was no air conditioning and he was in the heat, cooking. He wasn’t getting better so we went home and I had to drive his truck. Before we went home, we placed the food on the counter to cool, with the intent to return. I took a nap and with my husband still not feeling well, I left our home at about 3:30 p.m. It took me almost two hours to get to the Civic Center. I saw the smoke but the police were not stopping cars going to Lahaina. At about 5 p.m., I saw the cars from Lahaina and Kā‘anapali and I decided to turn around and go home.”

When Evelyn returned home, Angel was feeling better. “But we were worried at that time what was going to happen to the food—especially the chicharron,” says Evelyn Cabanilla. “We did not know anything. We could not call anyone because there was no cell phone service, no tv, no internet. Only until late Wednesday or early Thursday morning did we find out what happened.”

Like many others, the Navarro family has set up a Go-Fund-Me account.
Image courtesy R.V.N. ‘Ohana

Many other Filipino owned businesses in the area also suffered damage such as EC Food & General Merchandise, Kusina and Maui Asian Distribution. Misay Mart at 1068 Limahana Place in Lahaina opened last year selling groceries and fast food such as adobo, pork and peas, balatong, pancit, Bicol express, igado, dinardaraan, bindunngo, arroz caldo, pinakbet, calderata, pan de sal, halo halo, amongst others. According to social media posts by one of the co-owners, the business was destroyed as well as their personal homes. In fact, most of the family members were in the Philippines attending a family funeral when the fire broke out. “We lost everything, including eight homes and four businesses,” said co-owner Chamille Misay Serrano.

Inside Misay Mart.
Photo courtesy Misay Mart ‘Ohana
The wildfire damaged all of the assets of RVN’s business.
Photo: Navarro ‘Ohana

Even franchises owned or operated by Filipinos such as McDonald’s and L&L were ruined. Duck Kine—which opened in late 2022—and is owned and operated by Chef Alvin Savella (The “Kitchen Assasin”) appeared to be safe. Located at 1312 Front Street, Duck Kine is in the closed zone as no one is currently allowed into that area.

R.V.N. Deli Kitchen ad for souvenir book
Photo courtesy R.V.N. ‘Ohana
Ilocandia Filipino Store ad for Seed & Harvest Dinner 2023 souvenir book.
Image courtesy Lawrence Pascua

Filipino restaurants not in the fire zone have also been impacted by the lack of tourism: Joey’s Kitchen Whaler’s Village, Macadangdang, Joey’s Kitchen Nāpili, Fond (in Nāpili, owned and operated by Chef Jojo Vasquez who lost his home to the fires), amongst others. And businesses outside of West Maui are also feeling the effects. While the government continues to grapple with the disaster, non-profits and the business community are offering their tulong—help.

President Joe Biden speaks at the Lahaina Civic Center following the tragic destruction of much of Lahaina due to the wildfire.
Photo: Alfredo Evangelista

“The Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i is devastated by the impact the wildfires have had on the lives and livelihoods of our residents and local businesses,” says Sherry Menor-McNamara, President and CEO. “As the Voice of Business, we will elevate our advocacy to ensure the heart and soul of our small businesses are restored. We have seen how many recovered and rebuilt after the pandemic and are encouraged the same grit and resilience will shine.”

Alfredo G. Evangelista is a graduate of Maui High School (1976), the University of Southern California (1980), and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law (1983). He is a sole practitioner at Law Offices of Alfredo Evangelista, A Limited Liability Law Company, concentrating in estate planning, business start-up and consultation, nonprofit corporations, and litigation. He has been practicing law for 39 years (since 1983) and returned home in 2010 to be with his family and to marry his high school sweetheart, the former Basilia Tumacder Idica.