By Angie DeWitt
We are very much about “Ohana”and [to be] so far from home and to build your own Ohana with your employees and guests is priceless.
In 2012 Morgantown got their own taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine, something it had never had before.
Brendan and Maria Burchfiel left their home state of Hawaii in 2012 to start a new adventure in West Virginia.
“We wanted to branch out…We chose West Virginia because [Brendan’s] family lived here. We had only been here once before, but we thought that with the diverse group of people that attended the university, it would be a good place to open a restaurant.”
We would introduce a cuisine that was unique, new and different than anything else in Morgantown.
The Burchfiel’s started their adventure in the mountains by opening a restaurant – The Sandbar – in Westover, W.Va They had chosen Westover given its proximity to the university and downtown Morgantown.
“We figured [our restaurant] was just over the bridge and that we had a great product that would entice people to come. That seemed to not be the case,” Maria explained. “We didn’t research that location and its demographic well enough.”
With the Sandbar’s success lower than desired, the Burchfiel’s relocated to Cranberry Square in Cheat Lake, W.Va.
Everything happens for a reason. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to open the Cheat Lake location without that previous location.
Brendan, 38, and Maria, 33, both have a history of working in the restaurant business.
Brendan entered the food service industry at the age of 16 and never left. He started as a dishwasher, then made his way up to a cook before changing gears and learning to bartend. Next he learned to manage, and then he graduated to owning his own restaurant.
Maria started off serving in restaurants at the age of 20 before becoming a bartender and eventually a manager.
The duo opened their first restaurant together in 2008 – The Shack, and then later the Shack Waikiki and Shack Attack Fishing Charters.
Maria was born in Hawaii, while Brendan was born in Virginia. His father worked for the CDC and moved the family to Hawaii to work on a Heart Study. The two didn’t grow up in the same town, but the towns weren’t far – Hawaii Kai and Kaneohe.
They now have two kids ages 3 and 6, and Maria tries to visit her family back in Hawaii at least twice a year.
The location needed some work when they arrived. Tropics is essentially divided into three sections.
There is the ‘Main Bar’ area – a large bar, many TVs, and plenty of casual-style seating.
Then there is the Lava Room, which has more of a fine-dining appeal to it. When the Burchfiel’s began their renovations, they built a bar for the Lava Room, painted, removed the carpeting and added wood flooring.
Outside is the deck – which currently holds the title for the largest deck in Morgantown – and the Tiki Bar. Brendan and Maria also added rafia roofing to the bar and the lobby area.
Finally, they repainted all the walls inside the restaurant to give it a brighter, more tropical feel.
“We are proud to be a restaurant that you could go to 3 or 4 times a week and have a different experience,” Maria said.
She described the varying aspects of the restaurant as:
- The Main Bar: “The Main Bar is kind of our sports bar where you can enjoy a beer with your friends and watch a football game.”
- The Lava Room: “The Lava Room is our formal dining area which is perfect for baby showers, rehearsal dinners, private events; it is an environment where you can have a nice romantic dinner.”
- Outside: “Then we have the outdoor deck which is a great place to hang out with your family, listen to live music, and enjoy the weather.”
There are two bars outside, and the second is nostalgically named the Sandbar in memory of their first W.Va. location.
Since their opening roughly two years ago, Tropics has taken off like wildfire – especially in the summertime. Every Friday and Saturday during the summer, there are live bands performing on the stage outside.
The entertainment kicks off this Saturday, April 30, when JBoog takes the stage.
Another fun surprise? Every summer, usually two times, Tropics hosts a Luau which is put on by the Tuika Hawaiian Show.
“We thought it would be perfect to have authentic Hawaiian entertainment at a restaurant,” Maria said. “I’ve enjoyed their authenticity and showmanship since the first time we booked them.”
The troupe teaches the audience how to hula dance, entertains them with Hawaiian music, and closes their show with a fire dancer – all the while audience members enjoy an authentic Hawaiian buffet.
Maria explained that Hawaiian cuisine is a mixture of Asian influences such as Japanese, Chinese and Korean, in addition to Polynesian and American influences.
“The sugarcane and pineapple industries brought many immigrants from Asia and Portugal to Hawaii. With the American influences as well as the other cultural influences, Hawaii has a very unique cuisine,” she explained.
There are different types of ‘Hawaiian’ when referencing culture and heritage, Maria said. There are those that are of native Hawaiian heritage, and then there are Hawaiians that represent varying nationalities. Tropics’ menu caters to both.
The kalua pig and cabbage entree in addition to the poke (pronounced poke-ay) entrees – which are cubed raw tuna served atop a bed of cabbage – are true native Hawaiian dishes, while the ever popular mochiko chicken and spam musubi are Hawaiian dishes.
Interestingly enough, when it comes to football games in Hawaii, they don’t have a hot dog man walking around; they have a poke salesman, Maria shared.
When it came to creating the menu, the Burchfiels chose items that are very popular in Hawaii but that they also thought the American pallet would enjoy.
“We definitely offer flavors that are bold and different!”
As their business continued to flourish, Maria and Brendan upped the stakes and went in with a few business partners to purchase the Uniontown Country Club in May 2015.
Later that summer, Tropics opened their second location: Tropics on the Links.
Between the two restaurants, Tropics has between 50 and 60 employees.
As owners of not one, but two full-time businesses, their days are chaotic.
“As an owner, you are always the first one at the restaurant, doing all the ordering, inventory, accounting,” Maria explained her morning.
Next, they get the restaurant ready for service by setting up the sections, cleaning and stocking before beginning lunch and dinner services. Add in: meetings all throughout the day with vendors, private party meetings, interviews, answering e-mails, returning phone calls.
“Then you do it all over again.”
I am so proud of what we’ve built: great food, great clientele and awesome employees…We are very lucky to have the location that we have which allows us to [whisk] people away to the tropics of Hawaii, even if just for an hour or two.