A Twist of Fête

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Chef and Restauranteur Robynne Mai'i expands her eatery's reach.

A SHORT DAY FOR ROBYNNE MAI‘I IS 12 HOURS. A LONG DAY IS 16 HOURS.

Mai‘i, the chef and co-owner of Fête, the award-winning New American restaurant in Chinatown, Honolulu set out with husband Chuck Bussler to create a relaxed neighborhood hangout, the type of restaurant they loved in New York City. A place to chill, enjoy delicious food cooked without pretense and sourced from area farmers. A Sunday dinner, go-to kind of place with good food and friendly service. Fête is precisely that kind of restaurant and both are working killer hours so their lucky patrons have a place to relax.

Mai‘i a graduate of ‘Iolani School has a degree in English and modern dance from Middlebury College, a graduate degree in food studies from New York University and between earning a B.A. and graduate degree, studied cooking and pastry at Kapiolani Community College. Prior to opening Fête her career path while food focused is an eclectic journey that includes a long-time relationship with Nach Waxman the proprietor of New York City’s premier culinary bookstore, Kitchen Arts & Letters, working on the editorial team at Gourmet magazine, co-authoring the culinary arts degree program for Kingsborough Community College, and stints working under noted chefs Jean Claude Perrenou and Rocco DiSpirito. Mai‘i also managed to have the dream consulting gig of every froyo devotee, conceptualizing new flavors and toppings for 16 Handles, the East-Coast frozen-yogurt retail chain.

This diverse culinary background that spans beyond cooking in esteemed restaurants to education, corporate consulting and food media can’t hurt as the Fête experience continues to expand. In 2018, Fête took over Lunch- Box, the Hawaiian Airline’s employee café after doing a round of pop-ups and meeting the muster of airline employees.

Heyday is the latest project for Mai‘i and Bussler. Like its namesake, Heyday hints at Waikiki during the mid to late ’60s, when jet-age travel and the exuberance of statehood were top of mind. “This restaurant won’t be like a traditional restaurant with tables and chairs, the seating will be more like a living room with couches and the food needs to reflect that. It won’t be food that you eat with a knife and fork,” says Mai‘i. The inspiration is Waikiki continental cuisine from the era when fine dining reigned. Re-envisioned by Mai‘i with a fun, modern approach and a commitment to locally sourced ingredients, Heyday celebrates old-school (think Third Floor and Bagwell’s) dining with- out the formality and easy-to-eat finger food instead. Located in the re-furbished midcentury indie White Sands Hotel, Fête Restaurant Group will operate a speakeasy and espresso bar in addition to Heyday.

When asked about the challenges of working side-by-side with your spouse, the chef says it’s not that much differ- ent from their time in New York when both spent a lot of time working from their home. The challenge for them now is scheduling structured work meetings instead of casual passing conversations at home and work where a multitude of important business information is shared in bits and pieces. They share the same desk. She says he’s sort of messy, he says by anyone else’s standards he’s relatively neat. This relaxed banter on a quiet Saturday afternoon at Fête before dinner service begins makes one wonder if they yearn for a time when they were the guests instead of the proprietors.

Probably not. Bussler, like his wife, is a multitasker with a diverse pedigree, having working at acclaimed restaurants that include Prune and Blue Hill as well as a successful freelance career as a digital and interactive designer for top tier brands Condé Nast, Showtime, and CBS News.

Their skill sets in design, operations and culinary have merged well at Fête and their original objective of creating a guest experience that replicates their passion for entertaining and cook- ing for friends and family—mission accomplished. “We want guests to feel like we’ve invited them over for dinner and what we serve at Fête is what we would serve at home,” says the chef, as she closes her notebook and heads off to the kitchen. fetehawaii.com

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