Direction and discipline.
That’s all it took for Matthew Oliver, 29, to open up Maikai Sushi, a cozy sushi bar in Koloa.
“I was a bus boy for eight years in all the restaurants in Poipu,” Oliver said. “Everyone wanted sushi but there was no sushi. We don’t sell sushi on this side of the island. There was no sushi on the South Shore.”
Then he had an idea.
Oliver went to Los Angeles for two months and paid his way through sushi school.
“I went up there solo dolo and did that. I came home and I built my own food truck,” he said. “Brotha’ hustled. I made $18,000 and I paid all of that. I wanted a food truck. I was disciplined … And I took a $15,000 loan out and I had $15,000, so I launched it with that money.”
The sous chef sold sushi out of his food truck, the Dragon Wagon, until he was able to secure a spot inside Kukuiula Market.
Makai Sushi’s menu is pretty simple. Sitting above a heating grill for the store, the blackboard covered in colorful chalk features two categories: Rolls and Bowls.
“I would recommend the Gorilla for you m’am,” Oliver said to a customer who casually walked up the high bar during lunchtime. “It has all the bells and all the whistles. All the bells and all the whistles for you m’am.”
The Gorilla Poke Bowl is one of Makai Sushi’s Signature dishes. Coming in at $16, it’s made with ahi, ono, salmon, cucumber, ocean salad, daikon and an array of sauces.
Oliver offers traditionals rolls as well, such as a California Roll and Spicy Ahi Roll. Sushi rolls are $13, while Poke bowls are $14. For a light snack, Oliver offers a hand roll for $6.
Oliver said he tries to get all his fish local, so he makes it point to get to know each of the fisherman pretty well.
“We’re trying to get this whole aspect in it,” he said of the local focus. “We’re always trying to get daily specials depending on what gets caught fresh.”
Oliver’s sister, Leah Oliver, is Matthew’s sidesick.
She said the store sees roughly about 80 to 100 guests each day with a huge surge in the summer months.
“As he grows, I see myself going with him,” she said. “What obviously works is that I love my brother and that we get along really well.”
Now, just a little more than a year later, Oliver is celebrating his anniversary with a new idea. He hopes to open an actual restaurant within the next six months.
Makai sushi is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.