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Vol 19, no. 6
December 2016/ January 2017


The Every Day Cafe 
Story By: Joana Varawa
Photos By: PF Bentley

Every day for a quarter of a century the Blue Ginger Café in Lana‘i City has been open for business, rain or shine, fire or flood, no exceptions. Cheery, bright and occupying an old plantation building along Dole Park in the heart of town, the café has not missed a day of meal service in twenty-five years.

The Blue Ginger was established in 1991 by Joe Abilay, who had previously made a vow that if he ever opened a restaurant on Lana‘i, it would serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. He might have been hungry when he said that: At the time, he and his wife were visiting the island on a Sunday, a day when all the restaurants in Lana‘i City were closed.

When Abilay retired after a long career as a chef on Maui he and his wife moved to Lana‘i, bought an old bakery and transformed it into the Blue Ginger. It’s been open ever since, even on the day Abilay died in 2012. According to Joe’s son Phoenix, who now runs the place, the closest the Blue Ginger has come to closing was when heavy rain flooded the building. “The firemen pitched in and swept out the water, and we managed to open that afternoon,” Phoenix says. Another close call came the day a kitchen fire broke out. But once the smoke cleared, meal service went on. 

The Blue Ginger’s menu is filled with local comfort food such as chop steak, saimin and lasagna. With blue-checked oilcloths covering the tables, lacy white curtains in the windows and Abilay family photos on the walls, the dining room is the homey social center of the island. You see everyone there: construction workers devouring hefty plate lunches, school kids slurping up shoestring fries, families out on the town, the church ladies, the snowbirds, the mayor. When first-time visitors to Lana‘i ask for restaurant recommendations, they’re invariably pointed toward the Blue Ginger. “Just look for the blue building,” they’re told. “It’s always open.”