Thirty-one years and countless marriage proposals, wedding anniversaries and baby showers later, John Dominis Restaurant closed its doors for good after last night’s final service.
Japan-based owner Ocean Investments LLC, which bought the business in 2007, plans to demolish the building and redevelop the parcel with a restaurant, wedding and meeting facilities. The company’s lease extends through 2042.
The bar opened a little earlier than usual last night so the crew and restaurant alumni could gather for reminiscing, said founder D.G. "Andy" Anderson.
"I’ve been married to it," he said. He found the Kakaako parcel, entered the state bidding process, secured the lease and built the restaurant "way out there in the boonies," Anderson said.
John Dominis’ view of Waikiki and Diamond Head and its signature, high-end seafood-specializing menu made it a destination and special-occasion restaurant for generations of Hawaii residents and visitors.
Through the 1980s John Dominis was the place to be seen, and many a celebrity dined there. The restaurant capitalized on a trend in 2001 and opened for the late-night "lounge" crowd with "The Spy Bar" every Friday night.
The KSSK-FM 92.3/AM 590 morning team of Michael W. Perry and Larry Price moved their Saturday morning breakfast show to John Dominis from 2003 to 2009 after a 19-year-run at the Sheraton Waikiki’s Hanohano Room, bringing hundreds of diners to the restaurant when it would normally have been closed.
Changing times, increased competition and bouts with the nadirs of fluctuating economic cycles took their toll, and in recent years, Anderson said, the increasing lease rent and property taxes made the nearly 300-seat restaurant unsustainable as a stand-alone revenue generator. A new "highest and best use" is needed, he said.
"It’s been a great run, a project that has paid a lot of taxes, created an awful lot of jobs — we have literally put hundreds of kids through school … and satisfied thousands and thousands of people," he said. "I’m going to miss it terribly."
Kent and Valerie Murata, who have been regulars for some 20 years, arrived early last night from their home in Mililani. "It’s going to be hard to find another place like this," Kent Murata said. "Everybody’s so nice … like family."
The Muratas started coming for special occasions, but John Dominis soon became their regular hang. Valerie Murata "adopted all the crew," said Bonnie Osaki, another regular. Valerie often brought malasadas and dim sum for the staff, and for the holidays would bake hams or turkeys to feed the employees before service. She and Osaki teared up as they thought of no longer seeing the staff they’ve grown so fond of.
Among the restaurant’s 55 employees, cocktail server Roberta "Bobbie" Maurer has been "with me on the floor from the day I opened," Anderson said.
"She hasn’t changed a bit since the first day she worked here," chimed in 20-something bartender Mike Sugimoto. "He doesn’t mean that as a compliment," Maurer laughed.
Maurer’s hobby is photography, and she has "gotten so many gorgeous sunsets out here, I’m really going to miss that."
Rather than have a pre-opening pep rally for the staff yesterday, Anderson said he planned to show up after the abbreviated dinner service, at about 8 p.m. "to close up early, sit around and cry together" with existing staff "and a bunch of the old employees" who were planning to join in on the occasion. "We’ll reminisce a bit and put the old girl to sleep."