The Last Dance: A Memoir of the Garden Island Grille
By Dave Trentlage
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir, 2023
Kimber: Someone say “burgers”?
Mom: No, Kimmi. I said “restaurant.” Now stop vulching.
Kimber: Vulching? I am not vulching. I am merely standing guard over the kitchen, ever-vigilant in case any stray top sirloin finds its way onto the floor. By the way, what’s a “restaurant”? It has burgers, right?
Well. Let’s get one thing straight right out of the gate, okay? This isn’t a story about a restaurant. It’s not about what it takes to run a successful restaurant. It’s not even a behind-the scenes look at running a restaurant in the garden island of Kauai, although you’ll find all of the above and more within.
Dream & Demise
At its heart, Last Dance is a story about a dream. Its gestation and birth. Growing pains. Its development. And finally, its sad demise.
A 5,000 Mile Leap
Author Dave Trentlage and his wife, Sheri, take “a five thousand mile leap of faith” when they move from Michigan to Kauai “to chase our desires” and open a restaurant. Readers are soon swept into the dual worlds of dream-building and restaurant-eering. They join the author in a crash course in rebuilding, remodeling, re-designing, managing and owning a business, all with “absolutely no knowledge or work history in the business we were trying to build.”
As you join the Trentlages on the adventure, you’ll soon feel your feet aching from fifteen-hour work days. Feel the frustration of trying to fill key roles with the right people. Enjoy the laughs, levity, and kitchen camaraderie. And taste the tangerine margaritas and other signature drinks and dishes as their dream unfolds and takes off.
Tucked into the narrative are personal vignettes about the island, friends, family, employees, guests, locals, tourists, and others. All contribute to the kaleidoscopic look at the people who find their way to the Garden Island Grille. Like Napolean Villanueva, aka: “Executive Dishwasher.” Robert. Jeric. The Aloha Stage. Many others.
This book is also full of surprises. Just when you think you know where it’s headed, it takes a sharp U-turn into uncharted territory and the next personal or culinary adventure.
The book may shine brightest when the author shares stories about how he and his wife work at implementing their dream and getting their restaurant up and running. About how their hard work and vision pay off as their restaurant is consistently ranked by guests as one of the best on the island. How they beat the odds to become successful, recovering all their start-up debt by the end of their first year in operation. And most importantly, about the people they met and friendships they forge over the five years their doors were open.
Along the way, the Garden Island Grille becomes much more than a business. A place to eat. The Grille takes on a life of its own. It becomes almost… family. And this makes its demise per government quarantines and closures due to Covid-19 all the more distressing.
Takes a Little While
It takes a little while for this tome to get going. There’s a lot of back story about the author’s upbringing and his relationship with his parents and his “trio of failed marriages” before we get to Kauai. So some readers may find it a bit slow in places. It could also use another proofread. But these are minor issues and do not detract from the overall read.
Last Dance is eighteen chapters and about 250 pages. It includes a generous assortment of photographs.
Part travelogue, part memoir, part business and part tour guide, Last Dance defies classification. That’s because it’s in a class by itself.
Solid and skilled, the writing has a haunting, elegiac quality to it that’ll stick with you long after the last page. “It was a short run, the dream we built,” writes Trentlage in the final paragraph. “But man was it intense.”
So is this story. By the time you reach the final chapter, you’ll feel like you’ve won and lost a dear friend. Bring tissue.
Addendum: If the Garden Island Grille ever re-opens and we find our way to Kauai, we’ll be first in line. Count on it.
Kimber: I’ll start packing!
Our Rating: 3.5
February 20, 2023 at 6:49 pm
I’ve never ever wanted to open or run a restaurant myself, but I know I would enjoy reading about it. Nice review, Kimber!
February 21, 2023 at 11:30 am
Glad you enjoyed it. This book takes a little while to get going. But it picks up steam later. Thanks for commenting!