Love, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Hali‘imaile General Store
How Bev and Joe Gannon’s Marriage Endures
By Lori Taketa
Everywhere that mattered, Joe Gannon was the boss—until the success of Hali‘imaile General Store catapulted Bev Gannon to culinary stardom. Here's how their marriage survived.
But with Joe away on tour up to half the year, a bored Bev was left on Maui alone. She had studied at Le Cordon Bleu and run a catering business in her hometown of Dallas. Now Joe's homecomings became occasions of culinary bliss. She welcomed him with lavish three-course meals, night after night. Joe told their rock star friends, and they started flying in for the feasts.
“I'm really a stager and a judger of talent,” says Joe. “The great excitement for me was to find that my wife is just an unbelievably artistic person, and that she can cook food and make menus that no one else can.”
Bev launched Celebrations Maui, a catering venture she ran out of her home kitchen in Makawao. As it picked up, she and Joe both saw the same vision: they would combine their respective skills in a joint effort that would take her business to the next level—and, Bev secretly hoped, earn enough to keep Joe permanently on Maui.
Joe knew how to put productions together. In 1988 he found a plantation-era wooden building on a lonely stretch of former sugar cane land below Makawao, and raised the money to open Hali'imaile General Store. The idea was to sell gourmet takeout food, but opening night customers had a different idea. “Nobody left,” recalls Joe. “They all wanted to stay and eat.”
The couple hadn't even hired a waitress. Luckily, two of their employees had worked in restaurants, and in five sleep-deprived days of scrawling chalkboard menus, finding drinking glasses and figuring out how to run a slammed kitchen and floor, the team transformed Hali'imaile General Store into a casual sit-down establishment serving up Bev’s eclectic, upscale cuisine.
The souped-up business plan changed the couple's relationship. Bev ran the kitchen; Joe managed the operation. That was the arrangement. In total control of the heart of the enterprise, Bev was putting in the insane hours that initiate all new chef-owners. Her cooking was garnering a reputation in the local food scene. In those formative days of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, she was taking her place as one of its founders. She had no time to be a model wife.
I’d been totally at Joe’s beck and call, but when I started this business, I couldn’t do that anymore. I went from, ‘Anything you want, honey,’ to ‘Get out of my face, I’m doing this my way,’” Bev says. “All of a sudden he felt like he was married to a completely different person.”The bottom line wasn’t helping. When he realized that the startup was eating all its income, including the margin intended for his and Bev’s living expenses, Joe needed a plan to generate more cash. The most obvious plan was the fallback—he packed his bags and hit the big-show circuit again.
Inevitably now, his homecomings were totally different. “It was an interesting first few years,” says Bev. “He'd walk in the restaurant and say, 'You need to be doing this, this, this and this,' and I'd say, 'No, I don't.' He'd say, 'Yes, you do,' and then he'd leave.”
As Hali’imaile General Store hit its stride, Bev came up with a way to save the working relationship. In 1995 they opened Joe's Simply Delicious Food, an open-air restaurant with a casual vibe and the down-home, manly fare favored by its namesake, a full hour's drive away in the resort community of Wailea. Bev's idea was for Joe to retire from touring and stay down in Wailea every day.
So why didn’t that solution work? Joe had built a huge career staging the big stars. He’d helped invent the genre of over-the-top stage shows that define live rock ‘n’ roll today. He was used to being the living, breathing command center of massive stadiums filled with screaming, adrenaline-pumped fans. He'd controlled armies of stage and lighting techs like a four-star general, executing explosions and huge set changes with precision and grace. Compared to that, the day-in, day-out unpredictability of restaurants was madness itself.
Meanwhile, Bev’s culinary star continued to rise. With two acclaimed restaurants under her belt, she wrote the successful Hali’imaile General Store Cookbook; her second is due out next spring. Hali’imaile General Store was winning raves as best restaurant on Maui at the same time that Bev, who was nominated for a James Beard award, was becoming known as the island’s best chef. She took over Hawaiian Airlines’ in-flight menu and won acclaim for that too.
The couple fought every day. “We were losing our relationship because we had such different ways of doing business,” says Bev. “I'm a type-A manager and he's more of a visionary. You can't be that way in the restaurant business. You have to be on it every single day.”
The fighting wore them down to the same conclusion. “It's almost impossible to work with your wife. Especially if she's talented. Especially if you're talented,” Joe says. “You finally realize that one of you has to be totally in charge. You make some kind of arrangement, and that's the way it's done.”
Adds Bev, “When you get down to it, you need to ask yourself if you want to make this relationship work. We tried a lot of different ways, and what works for us is that I work, and he wakes up in the morning and says, 'What do I want to do today?”'
Did working together change them? “God, it made me grow up really fast. It made me really take ownership of my life and of my business,” Bev says. “We have a great relationship now because he's my supporter instead of my nemesis.”
“When we started out she was a Jewish princess,” Joe says. “Now she's the CEO of a corporate structure. That's a lot of mileage.”
Mileage, smileage. That's a lot of love.