‘We’re all family’: Angelenos tied to Maui gather in grief at Carson’s Back Home in Lahaina

Inside Back Home in Lahaina.
Diners fill up Back Home in Lahaina, a Hawaiian restaurant in Carson that’s a popular spot with local Hawaiians.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)
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Even if you’ve never been to Lahaina, Hawaii, the interior of the restaurant Back Home in Lahaina in Carson can give you a sense of what it was like before fires devastated nearly all of the 13,000-person town in the deadliest wildfire the U.S. has seen in over a century.

Parts of it are decorated to look like Lahaina landmarks: stores, museums and the famous Pioneer Inn. A mural covers a large section of one wall in the restaurant: a lovingly painted view of Front Street, Lahaina’s popular seafront avenue, looking southeast toward Lahainaluna Road. Colorfully depicted are the many small shops and quaint wooden buildings with white railings characteristic of the town, many just a story or two high.

A view of the interior decor at Back Home in Lahaina.
A view of the interior decor at Back Home in Lahaina.

A view of the interior decor at Back Home in Lahaina. (Silvia Razgova / For The Times)


A woman at Back Home in Lahaina, which is decorated to evoke major Lahaina landmarks such as the Pioneer Inn.
Annie Nakao, 60, inside Back Home in Lahaina, which is decorated to evoke major Lahaina landmarks such as the Pioneer Inn.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

A few nights ago, Naomi Lee, a manager at Back Home in Lahaina, glanced at the mural, then quickly darted her eyes away, wet with tears.

“Sorry,” she said. “The mural. I just ... ” Her voice trailed off. After taking a beat, she said she couldn’t stand to think about how what was painted on the wall was now destroyed.

A group of four sat at a table in front of the mural. “There was so much history there and it’s just gone,” said Ryan Mizukami.

He gestured toward the painting. “I mean look at this. It’s all gone.”

The wildfire that killed scores of people in Lahaina leveled historical landmarks that made the town a center of Hawaiian culture.

Aug. 12, 2023

A group of people laugh at a restaurant table.
Sheryl and Ryan Mizukami of Lakewood, left, dine with Carolyn and Sid Shibata of Rolling Hills, and visit with Anne Nakao, center, at Back Home in Lahaina.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)


Most restaurant names are functional and to-the-point. They’re typically just a word, maybe two, that reference the chef’s name, perhaps, or type of cuisine served.

But the first thing you notice about Back Home in Lahaina is its name, like sweet nostalgia itself. It is a cry into the comforting recesses of memory, invoking Maui’s historic former Hawaiian capital that many people, local and tourist alike, hold precious in their hearts.

In the midst of tragedy, Back Home in Lahaina has become something of a cenotaph to the lost lives, buildings and history of the culturally rich town. But it also became a beacon of hope one recent evening as diners, many with friends and relatives on Maui and other Hawaiian islands, came to congregate, mourn and celebrate over live music and heaping plates of rice and macaroni salad, slabs of sweet short ribs and piles of crispy fried chicken.

Many, like Ted Yamada, mourned the loss of artifacts and landmarks in Lahaina, which once served as the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. “There’s a lot of history in Lahaina,” Yamada said. “It was a whaling village to start with. A lot of the buildings are quite old, a lot of historical artifacts. And it’s gone. They can’t bring it back. It’s quite sad for the state of Hawaii.”

Diner Ted Yamata, 78, of Gardena.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Efrain Perez, 50, said his nephew escaped the fire at Lahaina.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

For the record:

3:44 p.m. Aug. 16, 2023Efrain Perez’s first name was misspelled Ephraim in an earlier version of this story.

Efrain Perez, sitting at a table, has a nephew living in Lahaina. “We didn’t hear anything from him for a day and half. My sister finally got a call from him that he was OK,” Perez said.

He opened his phone to show me pictures and videos of the destruction he had been sent by his nephew. One video showed the burned corpse of a dog lying in the street. The fire had moved so fast, even the dogs couldn’t get away in time.

His nephew was heading out to hunt and fish for food, he said, because there were few supplies available. Perez expressed hope that government aid would arrive quickly. “There’s no reason in this day and age we can’t get supplies to people, especially when they’re that close,” he said.

Mark Nakao’s mother is from Maui and still has family on the island.

“In all my years I would see fires driving by up on the hill, during the summer months, but never in my wildest dreams did I think the fire would get all the way to the ocean,” he said. “It’s just heartbreaking, it’s a tremendous loss.”

Ken Kaya, who is part Native Hawaiian, was worried about his mother, who lives in East Maui. Fortunately, she and Kaya’s other family on the island were all safe. “I was there in June,” Kaya said. “It was very dry. I said, ‘Wow, it just takes one spark to cause some devastation.’”

In the wake of the Lahaina fire on the island of Maui, local L.A. restaurants are rallying to support Lahaina by hosting fundraisers and donating proceeds from menu items.

Aug. 14, 2023

But shining through an unspeakable tragedy is also resoluteness, a feeling that no matter what the people of Hawaii have to face, they will come out OK on the other side.


Jeannie Morinaka, whose father’s family is from Maui, remembers hearing stories about her family that grew up in the hills above Lahaina. “Just to see it and hear it, it’s very emotional. But Hawaii people — You talk about people coming together, communities coming together? There’s nothing like communities in Hawaii,” she said.

“People from Hawaii will give the shirt off their back, even to strangers,” said Eileen Eguchi, sitting at the same table. “We want somehow to give back to them or help them but we feel helpless. It’s just so sad.”

Diner Eileen Eguchi of Torrance.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

“The word ohana — no matter what, we’re all family,” Eguchi said. “They’re going to survive no matter what, you know? And it’s going to take a while.”

Diners were encouraged to donate to the Hawai’i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong fund, and to the Maui United Way. Owners Roger and Kathy Sato, who opened Back Home in Lahaina 20 years ago, said they planned to hold an official fundraiser closer to the end of August.


“We’re still having a hard time processing what’s happening there,” Kathy said. “I can’t imagine how the people of Maui feel. We will do our best to be part of that recovery in any which way we can.”

“My dad was born in Maui,” Roger said. “He loved fishing off the Lahaina coast. There’s so much history there, so many iconic buildings. We tried to replicate it: the Pioneer Inn, Front Street.”

“It really broke our hearts,” he said of the fires. “I can’t believe how fast it went.”

Musician Brian Yamamoto, who plays with his group Endless Summer every month at Back Home in Lahaina, played a mix of Hawaiian songs (“Mele Ohana” by Maui native Keali’i Reichel) and classic American rock (“Tequila Sunrise” by the Eagles) while diners sang along, tapped their feet and eagerly filmed entire numbers on their phones.

As people flooded a main road out of West Maui, the inferno caught up. A resident who managed to escape with his family says he will never forget what he saw.

Aug. 13, 2023

Brian Yamamoto of the band Endless Summer performs.
Brian Yamamoto of the band Endless Summer performs during a regular live-music event at the restaurant where local Hawaiians gather.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Many of the diners that evening said they came specially to see Yamamoto. The musician, whose wife is from Maui, choked back emotion while speaking about the fires. He said that an uncle had lost his family home.

“It’s hard to believe — Lahaina,” he said. “It feels like this tropical paradise: You’d think it’s wet and rainy but I guess it’s not. It’s dry and with those hurricane winds … It’s devastating to hear.”

Yamamoto plans to hold a benefit concert with his other musical group, Elemental Funk, at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute on Sept. 3.

Born and raised on Kauai, Valerie Anduha’s first job was working in sugarcane fields, just like her parents and grandparents. She said she was grateful for the experience and thankful to be raised in Hawaii, calling it a “whole different ball game.”

Anduha reinforced what other diners I’d spoken to had said about the Hawaiian concept of ohana: That despite the immeasurable loss of lives and livelihoods, no one affected by this disaster is alone. “They’re going to be overwhelmed with what they have and how much people here in California are going to be supporting them,” Anduha said.


She said she was praying for everyone affected, even those she didn’t know.

“They’re all family,” Anduha said. “They’re all family.”

A diner digs into food at Back Home in Lahaina.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

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LA Times Today: Angelenos tied to Maui gather in grief at Carson’s Back Home in Lahaina

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