Ta-Dah! Magics captures island cuisine, ambiance early on

  • Talia Ulu is ready to take an order at Magics Beach Grill Snack Shack next to La‘aloa Beach Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Albert Martinez gets rerady to serve lunch at Magics Beach Grill next to La‘aloa Beach Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Diners enjoy lunch at Magics Beach Grill next to La‘aloa Beach Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Diners enjoy lunch on the lanai at Magics Beach Grill next to La‘aloa Beach Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Jasmine Wasan makes a Toasted Colada at Magics Beach Grill next to La‘aloa Beach Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Albert Martinez, center, serves lunch to Brian MacKenzie and Patryce Stout at Magics Beach Grill. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Magics Beach Grill welcomes guests to a seaside dining experience. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — What’s in a name? The answer for Kona’s newest culinary fixture — just about everything.

Magics Beach Grill is focused on interweaving Hawaii’s inherent charms into every element of the dining experience, from the fare on the plate to the ambiance in the air.

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Crashing waves provide a natural soundtrack throughout the open air establishment replete with ample outdoor seating. No view is panoramic, but none are far from it. A glance west fills the eye with Pacific blue. A turn of the head south offers sights of sunbathers and boogie boarders across the full expanse of Magic Sands Beach. And a flick of the eyes west provides a rising green snapshot of Mount Hualalai.

Construction work has relocated the entrance so as to maximize the island’s natural airflow — a sea breeze through the afternoon reversing to refreshing mauka gusts rolling down the mountainside as dusk melts into evening.

“We just wanted it to have that lanai kind of feeling,” said owner Mattson Davis. “We are oceanfront to the max. We wanted to make it approachable.”

Davis described Magics cuisine as “New Hawaii with a focus on farm to table.” The restaurant’s prevailing philosophy was evident in its ulu fries with a trio of dipping sauces including a malt vinegar aioli, banana ketchup and a hot mango mustard.

The restaurant is tracking at around 10,000 pounds of ulu this year provided by the Hawaii Ulu Cooperative. Davis buys shrimp raised at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, crustaceans from Kona Cold Lobsters, fish caught in Hawaii waters and greens grown on Hawaii Island farms.

In it’s location along the northern edge of the beach, Magics provides connection points for Hawaii Islanders extending beyond the local ingredients it promotes.

“I have had so many people come in and tell me stories about when they used to come here when it was Jameson’s (By The Sea) and when it was Dorian’s,” Davis said of the revamped building that first opened as Magics Lanai and Mermaid Bar in 1965.

While a couple endeavors have found longevity at the location, which stood vacant for six years before Magics opened its doors just more than five weeks ago, Davis believes no concept ever fully captured the connection of place and offering.

“I always saw this place as very underutilized,” he said. “I always felt that the recipes, the menu, didn’t match the location. They wanted it to be kind of fine dining so it was kind of high end.”

Pricing has been a key consideration early on, Davis added. Dinner entrees range from the $16 Big Island Burger to the $34 Lobster Stir Fry Noodle with a separate lunch menu, each of which will evolve seasonally to a degree four or five times annually.

For the beach crowd, Magics opens its Snack Shack Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. offering items like yogurt, pastries and English muffin sandwiches as well as espresso and coffee options. Those hours are open to adjustment in the future.

The main restaurant — styled in an island-modern motif characterized by fine, polished wood tabletops and fixtures, mostly hardwood floors, and an aqua and soft white color scheme — operates Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dinner service begins at 4:30 p.m. and final seating takes place at 9 p.m.

Starting the first Sunday in June, Magics will open for brunch from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and will eventually be made available for private parties and supper clubs.

The restaurant currently employs around 50 people, though Davis said that number is likely to rise to roughly 65 once outdoor expansion is complete. The restaurant has a current seating capacity of 100, though plans are to increase that by 30 or so.

Prominent among additional outdoor options will be tables situated around the open-air bar that offers indoor and outdoor service simultaneously from the same hub. Large, screenless windows open up to a row of traditional bar seating on the west end and four-top tables on the south side.

Most Magics employees were already working in the industry on Hawaii Island before the restaurant opened, Davis said.

He brought in head chef Dan Rabayo and sous chef Joe Fougere from Portland, Oregon, where the two worked as a team in three restaurants over the span of 10 years. Several other primary kitchen staff positions have been filled by culinary professionals with whom the two worked during their time in the Pacific Northwest.

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For Davis, a 22-year resident of the island who started in the restaurant industry in Hawaii with Kona Brewing Company, Magic’s was a natural business decision.

“I love the social aspect of restaurants,” he said. “I love serving people — the smile. I mean, what a great thing to do. Come down and have a meal with a friend. And (we get to) be a part of creating that for somebody.”

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