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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 9, 2008

No slack time for ex-'beach bum'

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Bev Gannon, who owns three local food-related businesses, was recently named the 2008 Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration.

Bev Gannon Restaurants

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Chef Bev Gannon, right, is shown preparing food for 80 guests at The James Beard House in New York. Gannon says catered events can be tough: "You go in and you have one night to get it right."

Bev Gannon Restaurants

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Bev Gannon's primary "job" when she moved to Maui 28 years ago was to hang out at the beach and get a tan.

The Dallas native lounged on the white sands while her husband, Joe, spent most of his time in Los Angeles as a producer and director for big-time entertainers such as Liza Minnelli, Alice Cooper and Neil Diamond.

"When I first moved here I was pretty much a beach bum," said Gannon, 58. "I got very tanned and I cooked for friends and would go to the Mainland to visit him."

But a funny thing happened on the way to the beach one day in 1985. Bev Gannon was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. A trained chef, she enjoyed cooking for large groups and she decided to put her skills to work and start a small catering business at her home.

"I just started really cooking and got into it," Gannon said. "It was a crazy thought because I had never run my own business. I had hardly worked. I 'dabbled' at working during the first 15 years of my workable life."

Gannon launched her catering business, Celebrations Catering, in her kitchen and "expanded" to her garage. Her breakthrough came when she was hired to cater the opening of a big public relations firm on Maui, which got her some favorable press in local publications and led to more jobs.

As business grew, Gannon found that the commercial kitchen in her garage violated her homeowners association's rules and so she was forced to look for a new site. The timing couldn't have been better: She discovered that the owners of the Hali'imaile General Store, two miles from her home, were giving up the business.


Gannon took over the space in October 1988 with the intentions of operating a small-scale gourmet take-out shop. But things changed.

"It was not going to be a restaurant, but that's what everybody wanted so that's what it turned into," Gannon said. "When a hundred people showed up the day that we opened and wanted to sit down and be handed a menu and eat dinner, I thought, 'Whoops. Maybe I should rethink this.' "

Gannon developed a menu of her favorite dishes and went from there.

Twenty years later, Hali'imaile General Store and the catering business are thriving. So is Gannon's third business, Joe's Simply Delicious Food restaurant, in Wailea.

Gannon's hard work was recognized recently when she was named the 2008 Small Business Administration's Small Business Person of the Year. Winning the award, she said, was "amazing."

"Sometimes when you question yourself you look around and go, 'I've been doing this for 20 years now and people still really like coming in the door and they'll leave saying it's the best meal they've ever had,' " she said. "If I can keep doing that, I'm a really good business person."

Gannon acknowledged that the restaurant business was tough in the beginning as she struggled to meet the demands of her customers and the challenges of a shifting economy. But, she said, she consistently offered fresh, quality food using local products and her customer base began to grow.


Gannon said it took about 10 years before she felt comfortable with what she was doing. Along the way she made adjustments to how she ran her businesses, particularly the catering venture, and despite her success she continues to keep up with changes in the industry.

"I'm the perfect example of I've learned from my mistakes and somehow I lived through them and my company survived them," she said. "But I don't think you ever stop learning about how to do things better or more efficiently."

What makes things more challenging is that each of Gannon's businesses is different.

Hali'imaile General Store is a "very feminine-feeling place" with yellow walls covered with bowls, platters, dishes and napkin rings. The restaurant features a variety of appetizers, salads, and "island-influenced" entrees.

Joe's opened 14 years ago and reflects her husband's personality. The restaurant's walls are covered with Joe's gold records and its menu offers "American comfort food" like meat loaf, pot pies, fish and chops.


Gannon said she has an easier time maintaining consistency at the restaurants than in her catering business.

"Catering is like doing one-nighter rock-and-roll shows in big venues," she said. "You go in and you have one night to get it right. If you mess up, you can't do it over. The restaurant is like a Broadway show. You're basically creating an atmosphere, creating a stage and you're doing the same performances every single night, but the audience changes."

The three businesses employ a total of 124 people. Gannon also does the food for Hawaiian Airlines, which has attracted even more customers to her restaurant.

An admitted slacker during her younger years, Gannon now describes herself as a workaholic. She enjoys going to work each day.

Gannon will be 59 next month and her husband 78 in November, but she said she has no plans to slow down. She has no children of her own (Joe has four grown children), but she considers her businesses her babies.

"When I hire people, especially in positions of management, I go, 'I'm turning over one of my children to you and I'm very protective of my kids so you better handle it that way,' " Gannon said.

"Then I have 124 people that are like part of the family that I feel a huge responsibility to keeping these businesses going because I'm the person who's keeping their lives going."

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.