By Hadley Nunes
One half of the Weyerhaeuser warehouse on Nimitz Highway is owned by Ba-Le founder and owner Thanh Quoc Lam who purchased his section of the property for $7.1 million in 2009. A refugee with very little money and no trade, he came to Hawaii with his wife from Vietnam in 1984, learned to bake and opened the first Ba-Le sandwich shop in Chinatown when he was twenty-eight.
Working without rest since the business opened in 1986, there are now twenty-five locations across the island and his sons Trung and Brandon Lam now run a sister company called La Tour Cafe which opened it’s first location inside the Nimitz warehouse in 2010.
Successful and thriving, as would be expected from the Lam family, La Tour now has three locations. Lana Lane Studios creative Gavin Murai of Reckon Shop recently designed a mural inside the Pearl City location.
Taking a step back to consider their image, the Lam brothers wanted to find a way to pay homage to their father and make their mark as the next generation with a new mural that is uniquely La Tour Cafe.
The mural designed by Murai is eight feet tall by twenty-five feet long and is visually and thematically layered. It includes their father’s classic white baking cap which he is known for; iconic items from the bakery like baguette and macaroons; tools of the trade; their official logo Rustic, Quality, Fresh; and the year the La Tour opened.
“It’s a very clean space, not just a usual cafe—it’s a bistro,” Murai said. “I knew I couldn’t go crazy with spray paint. Working with what was already there was key, I wanted people to be excited about it, but I didn’t want my design to over-shadow what they already have going on inside the space,” he explained.
The care Murai takes with his clients is evident in every aspect of the design process. Murai told me that his background in the restaurant industry, has influenced the attention to detail that he brings to his projects.
“Whenever I do something for a client I put the same effort in that you would put into your child. With that approach, there’s an investment from both sides,” he said.
His initial sketches and the history of the brand that gets discussed, are crucial parts of the process even though everything doesn’t get included in the final design. In the case of a family business, it makes all that’s shared even more significant. It’s a retelling of the story that got them to where they are to today and Murai takes this to heart.
“When they see the attention to detail that you give to their story and the imagery that captures that, firstly they know that their money is being well spent, and secondly, they’re invested,” he said. “For La Tour, for example, they wanted to add a clear coat over the mural and they arranged the seating so that it wouldn’t get damaged. They value it, and it works on both ends because they protect their investment and you also know that your artwork wasn’t done in vain.”