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Hawaii restaurants, bars face up to new restrictions

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They knew it was probably coming, but restaurant and bar owners still were struggling to respond Tuesday after Gov. David Ige mandated the closure of bars and strongly suggested that restaurants close their dining rooms.

“We’ve talked for several weeks now about worst-case scenarios,” said D.K. Kodama, owner of the Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar restaurant group.

They already were planning a greater emphasis on takeout, and possibly curbside service, Kodama said. Still, “it’s not easy, it’s all hard.”

Restaurateur Peter Merriman said all of his restaurants would cut off dining room service after Tuesday night, shifting to takeout only starting today. “It was a tremendously difficult decision to make because of the implications this will have for all of our employees,” Merriman said in a statement, but he made the decision in response to a personal request from Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

His group employs a total of more than 1,000 in nine restaurants. Merriman said he hoped the governor would seek rent abatement for employees who will suffer with the cutbacks.

Lisa Kim, a partner in Real a Gastropub and Brew’d Craft Pub, has to deal with the implications for establishments where drinks and food have equal weight. She said they’d been working on new, limited menus and shifting to more takeout.

But Real is also a brewery, and the IPAs already in tanks have a life span of just 30 days. “We have thousands of dollars of beer in the vat,” she said. She hopes to be able to sell it by filling growlers for takeout, “because that’s such a tremendous loss.”

Side Street Inn on da Strip, another restaurant and bar, closed its bar Tuesday night. General Manager Troy Antonelis said only takeout and curbside food service would be available beginning today.

“It’s tough,” he said. “Today was a big challenge because we have to face the reality of letting employees know that for an unknown period of time, we’re not going to be open. So today was a very emotional day.”

At Anyplace Lounge, owner Judy Foster Long said she had been trying to comply with all recommendations to sanitize her workplace, down to the karaoke microphone. She had been considering limiting hours and her menu.

Facing closure, her concern was mostly for her regulars: “For us, as small bars, we’re not just bars, we’re a culture, where people gather. It’s their routine. In some cases we’re their family.”

For some restaurants, closing a dining room is less involved. Hiroshi Fukui, vice president for dining and facilities for Rainbow Drive-In, said the main restaurant in Kapahulu and three franchise operations would all close their seating areas today and remove any self-serve condiments.

Russell Ryan of Highway Inn said in an email response that the company is still working out a plan, though “we are OK, as we already have takeout and delivery set up at our two main locations.” He said they also plan to offer vacuum-sealed packs with two to four days of meals.

Zippy’s closed the dining rooms at all of its 24 locations Tuesday night and will limit the menu at its takeout counters beginning Thursday. Paul Yokota, president of FCH Enterprises, which owns the chain, said he regrets the inconvenience to customers, but, “We support flattening the curve of COVID-19.”

Star-Advertiser staff writers Joleen Oshiro and Dave Reardon contributed to this report.

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