Chris Thibaut, board of director and owner TS Restaurants, CEO Maui Brewing Company Restaurants
Between opening Maui Brewing Company’s new brewpub in the former Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber, a second brewpub at Maui Brewing Company headquarters in Kihei and a third in Kailua next January, Chris Thibaut’s glass is looking half full. “Three restaurants in a 14-month period is definitely a challenge, but we were so excited about each of these opportunities that we couldn’t pass them up,” Thibaut says.
The majority of his time is focused on the Waikiki brewpub, and the rest is spent developing future locations. If the waves are good, he’s up and out the door by 5:30 a.m. to squeeze in a surf session before teaming up with his wife, Amber, to get their four-year- old son off to school while keeping their two-year- old “from destroying the house.” He heads straight to the office until lunchtime, then it’s off to CrossFit and on to site meetings or back to the office for the remainder of the day.
Restaurateur was a natural career choice for Thibaut given his background. He watched his father grow TS Restaurants—owner and operator of popular restaurant chains Duke’s and Hula Grill, among others—from a single location on Maui to a regional power player with 13 locations between Hawai‘i and California. Thibaut has worked in eight of the company’s 13 locations over the years, learning every facet of the business, from front- and back-of- the house positions to his current role as board director and owner.
In founding TS Restaurants, the elder Thibaut and his business partner Sandy Saxten took all the things they loved about the restaurant business and added in elements of lifestyle, friendship and family. The company has stayed true to its founding principles. “The dynamic has always been about friendship and finding the balance between working hard and playing hard,” Thibaut says. “Restaurants are a ton of fun to work in and be in, but if you’re not working twice as hard on the non-fun stuff, then you run into problems.”
With a personal motto of “collaboration over competition,” Thibaut believes everyone brings something to the table and has always had a knack for building a great team. “Having a good team is everything, no matter what industry you’re in,” he says. “The success of this business, or any other for that matter, will never lean on what my, or any leader’s, great strength is, but rather the strength of the team as a whole. I get the most pride out of seeing people in my team work to their full potential, succeed and have fun in the process. Then they pass this down to others on their team and it creates a really positive cycle that’s fun to be a part of.”
Thibaut says his father wasn’t shy about calling people out when things were below his expectations, but he’d always be back with them later sharing a beer and a laugh. “In that way we are a lot alike—we’re both super persistent, no BS, charismatic and blunt, but he was more feared than I will ever be,” Thibaut laughs.
The similarities don’t end there. Both TS Restaurants and Maui Brewing Company Restaurants were founded on solid friendships. “He started TS with one of his best friends, and I feel lucky enough to be doing something similar now at Maui Brewing Company Restaurants, with some very good friends,” Thibaut says. He’d known Garrett Marrero and Melanie Oxley of Maui Brewing Company long before partnering with them to expand their brewpub operations. Thibaut visited their new brewery in Kihei in March 2015, and they all sat down together and came to an agreement about how to make it happen.
“I live in Kailua and absolutely love the community here,” Thibaut says of the forthcoming Kailua location. “When we were presented with the opportunity of doing a restaurant in the new Lauhala Shops, we were thrilled. Our restaurants are all about the craft-beer way of life and the values associated with that. The close-knit Kailua community echoes many of these values, and we’re excited to bring our restaurant to the neighborhood.” Thibaut’s favorite part of the job? “The people for sure,” he says. “Whether it be our employees, our guests or our vendors, the people are truly what make the industry special and bring the magic to our restaurants. The beer is a strong second, of course.”