By Christopher Boan
Ayears-long prophecy came to fruition in mid-January, as Dana Mulé’s Hula’s Modern Tiki opened its High Street location.
The restaurant is a stone’s throw from the Loop 101 at 5450 N. High Street.
The company’s newest restaurant features a garage door opening up to a spacious patio, to go with floral patterned booths, tiki features on walls and other Hawaiian mainstays. It joins locations on Seventh Street in midtown and First Avenue in Scottsdale.
The company’s third location is the result of years of sweat equity and good luck a decade after launching its first restaurant along Central Avenue, according to Mulé.
“It’s always amazing when you get to the end of this road, because it’s so much work, especially when so much stress and heart goes into it,” Mulé says. “There’s so much work that’s been done—you have to design and review and then construct and inspect the space.
“And I’ll tell you, man, when you finally get to the end, it’s such a sense of relief to just open the doors and allow the public in to enjoy what you’ve created.”
Mulé and his team have come a long way since the Central Avenue location opened in 2009, just south of Camelback. Much of that change stems from the easing of economic tensions from the “Great Recession,” to go with the company’s solid footing in the area.
That stability comes from Mulé and his team’s ability to deliver a quality, island-themed oasis to Phoenicians, with all the greatest hits of Hawaii, done in a style that’s truly unique.
“We were blessed. I mean, we opened in 2009 and the bottom of the world had just fallen out,” Mulé says. “All of the sudden you’re opening a business that has a 90% failure rate in the worst depression since 1929.
“So, you know, I’ve got to be honest, we were always optimistic, and I never even thought about it, but looking back, I realized I was just too naive.”
That naivety allowed Mulé and his associates to enter the city’s restaurant scene full speed ahead, with their lack of fear paying off in the long run.
“We probably weren’t as terrified as we probably should have been,” Mulé jokes. “But we’ve been blessed ever since. Man, that store did extremely well. Then we had to move it last year to Seventh Street. The Old Town Scottsdale location has done extremely well. It’s just been a blessing to be able to expand as we have over the last 10 years and sort of give each area of this Valley its own taste of who we are.
“The restaurant business—it gets knocked all the time and the people that are in it tend to complain about it—yet, I think it’s amazing, dude. We get to throw a dinner party for, like, hundreds of our closest friends every night, and people get invited in.”
It’s that enthusiasm that’s taken the city’s culinary set by storm over the last 11 years, as Mulé tries to expand his culinary dynasty northward.
The decision to move to High Street stemmed from the area’s assortment of shops and restaurants, according to Mulé, as well as the scene’s vibe in general.
“I like High Street. I love how it’s walkable, how you can get actually reside there,” Mulé says.
“The people right behind it all living in those multifamily units can come over. You can walk the street, you can visit multiple bars and restaurants and shops, and you know, I liked that feeling and we also liked the fact that area is on fire.”
Mulé was also drawn to the development, because of the potential for building a truly unique culinary environment that would stand alone in its uniqueness, while also drawing on the successes of his other two locations.
The restaurateur says the key to his success with Hula’s stems from his team’s ability to make each of the three locations stand out, with several shared characteristics and a slate of unique aspects at each spot.
“You want each one to have their own character. So, although the food and the drinks remain consistent—and some of the design elements—you want each one to be a little different,” Mulé says. “So, you have to figure it all out, and I guess that’s the challenge of having multiple locations.”
The menu features such creative items as samurai beef sticks, grilled Mongolian beef, skewered with pineapple along with scallions and lime-curry dipping sauce ($9); spicy seaweed salad ($5); “Jawaiian” jerk pork plate, marinated grilled and sliced pork, jerk sauce, plantains, rice, mango salsa and Jamaican Johnny cakes ($16); lemongrass-encrusted fresh fish ($13-$19); and the Hunkin Samoa burger, with jack cheese, fried Spam, linguisa sausage, sunny-side-up egg and spicy Hula sauce ($15).
The key to Hula’s success, according to Mulé, is the traits that the three locations share with tropical getaways.
“It’s like getting right into your home and then you get to take their mind off of all the crap going on in the world for just a couple of hours,” Mulé says. “I mean, it’s a privilege to do what we want to do, particularly nowadays.”
Hula’s High Street
5450 E. High Street, Suite 101,
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