Koko Head Cafe chef Lee Anne Wong joined the COVID-19 Care Conversation to share insight into how the coronavirus pandemic impacted her business financially and affected Hawaii’s restaurant industry now operating at only 50% capacity.
Wong said that when the pandemic hit “everything happened very, very suddenly,” and closing the doors of her Kaimuki restaurant in March was very emotional.
“It was hard to let go of my employees not knowing when I’d be able to hire them back,” she said. Koko Head Cafe reopened in May for takeout service and this month for dine-in service.
In December, Wong also took over the restaurant at Pioneer Inn on Lahaina, Maui. At the time, she was preparing to launch a new concept in a bustling visitor town. Now, she said only a few restaurants are open in the area with most shops still closed.
“No one asked for this,” Wong said. “Restaurants and businesses didn’t do anything wrong.”
Wong worries that many businesses will not be able to survive if things continue as they are. She explained that while she is grateful for the federal support she received, it’s been challenging to figure out the details given the recent changes to the rules and deadlines.
That coupled with no rent relief leaves many businesses struggling or worse yet, forced to shut down. Wong believes Hawaii’s restaurant community needs a bailout.
To those who are hesitant about dining at a restaurant, she said “please don’t be afraid.” She shared that restaurants already go “above and beyond” with regards to sanitation and that the new guidelines mean restaurants are being even more stringent. She recommended checking with the restaurant before dining in to ensure they are taking necessary precautions and that sanitation guidelines are in place.
Wong said the loss in the restaurant business “affects the whole supply chain,” referring to farmers and producers who are also struggling as a result of the pandemic.
“Save Hawaii restaurants,” she said.
The COVID-19 Care Conversation, sponsored by Hawai’i Executive Collaborative and Hawaii Pacific Health, airs live every weekday at 10:30 a.m. on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook page. Yunji de Nies and Ryan Kalei Tsuji discuss the latest news, resources and community concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in Hawaii.