Don’t let anybody tell you, “you can’t do it.”
The kitchen puts Coast Guard veteran, Lamont Brown, at ease. It’s the place of early childhood memories and where he contemplates his next moves. It reminds him just how loved he was. That’s why he’s always been interested in cooking. It’s a way to hold on to his childhood memories.
Born into a big family in El Paso, Texas (at one point, there were 13 people in the house) Brown remembers how his mother would work tirelessly to help feed so many kids. But when he was just 8 years old, his father passed away.
The void that created led him on a slow slide downward. He ran with the wrong crowd down the wrong path. His teenage years were a blur of drugs and petty crimes. By adulthood, he couldn’t hold down a job and owed more than $10,000 in fines he could not pay.
One day, after not seeing his sister for four years, she knocked on his door.
She was in the Army at the time and Brown remembers the look of disgust on her face. Her searing words burned clear through him.
“Do something with your life!”
He did. He joined the Coast Guard.
Brown shipped out to boot camp the week before his 28th birthday. When he arrived in New Jersey, he realized that he was some 10 years older than the “bunch of kids” in his class. He felt isolated and alone. But his situation would change.
On one of his patrols, the cook needed to be relieved. The crew nominated Brown to replace him. In the kitchen, Brown found himself. The place brought back childhood memories that helped him reason and work through his problems. He knew he would open a restaurant after leaving the Coast Guard.
Sharing that dream with a shipmate didn’t produce the response he expected.
“You’re gonna become a drunk and a failure within two years!”
His immediate supervisor was no more encouraging. He told Brown he’d never pull it off. So, Brown did what any would-be restauranteur would do. He ignored the dress down.
Today, Maya’s is a neighborhood restaurant on the North Shore of Oahu. Brown named it after his daughter to further fuel his passion and to make sure he lives up to the standard he wants to teach her.
While the Coast Guard provided the means for Brown to open his restaurant, it didn’t provide him any financial training to help him understand a budget or to run a business. Without a network of investors to help finance Maya’s, Brown borrowed against his home.
His biggest financial hurdle was going 18 months without a paycheck. Still, the lessons his mother taught about stretching a dollar…complimented by a wife who supported his dream…have help Maya’s to embody Brown’s heritage and past. The menu is complete with the foods he ate as a kid; his mother’s recipes, with some refinements.
Maya’s sustains itself by supporting local farmers. When COVID hit, the neighborhood came out to support the restaurant. Today business is better than it ever.
Brown’s role as a restauranteur brings him instant gratification. When the food goes out he watches his guests smile as they eat. That’s why he cooks.
And he explains transitioning like this. “When you get out, you get to start all over again. Take the good of the military and put that into your next chapter. And never let anybody tell you, you can’t do it.”