Mark Ellman began in the kitchen as a teenager flipping burgers at Texas Tommy’s on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in California’s San Fernando Valley. By age 18, he was working the kitchen ladder under French chef Tony LeBlanc at Yellowfinger’s in Los Angeles. He went from pantry boy to lunch chef, and when Chef LeBlanc opened a new café, Chef Mark became the head chef. In 1977, he and his wife, Judy, who he met while working in a Mexican restaurant in Calabasas, started a catering company called “Can’t Rock & Roll, But Sure Can Cook” and geared it to the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, including Neil Diamond, Frankie Valli and the Beach Boys.
In 1980, they opened a small restaurant in Sherman Oaks called Cuisine Cuisine, serving peasant-style food from France and Italy. Mark also made his own pasta and sauces and marketed them to specialty markets throughout Southern California. Mark and Judy then moved to Colorado looking for a change of scenery and Mark began working as a chef at Café Ronchetti and later Kilgore Trout’s, but Colorado was too cold for the California couple.
In 1985, they moved to Maui and immediately knew they were home. In 1988, they opened the Avalon Restaurant & Bar in the old whaling port of Lahaina. Chef Mark’s sister, Gerry, joined him as sous chef. It was at Avalon that Chef Mark and eleven other Hawaiian chefs formed the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine Movement, which included Great Chefs Sam Choy, Bev Gannon, George Mavro, Alan Wong, and Roy Yamaguchi, among others. In 1993, Chef Mark opened Maui Tacos, which grew into a small taco stand chain.
In 1994, the Great Chefs television crew showed up at the Avalon to tape Chef Ellman for Discovery Channel’s Great Chefs of Hawaii television series. In 1998, Chef Mark and Judy sold Avalon to concentrate on expanding their Maui Taco chain, and in 2001 they opened another restaurant called Penne Pasta Café. It was a small Italian café where Chef Mark was able to celebrate his Italian heritage of southern Italy.
In 2005, Chef Mark and Judy opened Mala Ocean Tavern with their two daughters, Ariana and Michelle. Shortly thereafter in 2006, they replicated Mala at the Wailea Beach Marriott and called it Mala Wailea. In 2008, they sold Penne Pasta Café and their chain of Maui Tacos to concentrate on Mala and Mala Wailea.
In 2011 they created Honu Seafood & Pizza next door to the Mala Ocean Tavern, and in 2015 they opened their 17th restaurant, Frida’s Mexican Beach House, which is right next door to Honu, and probably is the most beautiful of the three oceanfront restaurants in a row.