At its best moments, Plantation Tavern was just the type of gathering place that owners Adam and Sunny Gilbert envisioned when they opened the Kapolei restaurant in 2014.
A couple of friends might stay for hours, eating a little, drinking some wine, listening to music long into the night. An aunty might get up for a hula “and it would turn into kanikapila,” Adam recalled.
No more. “What we built doesn’t fit with the model in these times,” he said. “We want you to stay for hours and dance and talk story — and hug.”
After weeks running the numbers and changing their minds many times, the husband and wife have put their business up for sale — a “fire sale,” Adam said. Their asking price is $150,000, far less than they paid to take over the space.
The Gilberts started planning their restaurant when Adam was chef on the Star of Honolulu dinner cruise ship.
They wanted to work closer to Ewa, where they lived with their two sons. They envisioned a place open late, where all ages would be comfortable. The menu would comprise plantation-inspired local foods with a contemporary farm-to-table spirit.
“We wanted to elevate what people were eating in a way that was familiar,” Sunny said.
She sought out old prints of plantation life to hang on the walls, to connect with the agricultural history of the west side. She liked seeing older customers telling younger ones stories inspired by the photos. “What a cool way to connect people.”
The business took root quickly.
“I wanted it to be like ‘Cheers,’” Adam said, referencing the sitcom bar where everybody knows your name. “By year two it was like ‘Cheers,’ and I was like Sam Malone.”
Business continued strong through 2019, when they had a staff of 19, Adam said. “And then this — 2020 was useless.”
In the first few weeks of the coronavirus shutdown, they tried takeout, but were making only about $400 a day, when it would’ve taken $1,100 to break even. Adam estimates they lost more than $10,000 by Easter Sunday, when they stopped.
Rather than reopen their dining room in early June, they made the hard decision to stay closed.
What next? Sunny has a full-time job with Hawaiian Airlines; Adam is finishing a cookbook on making the best use of a subscription farm produce box. For years the restaurant was a pickup spot for community supported agriculture boxes from Kahumana Organic Farms.
They’re not sure if they’ll try another restaurant. If not, they had a good run. “We created what we wanted,” Adam said.
“And we really made some good friendships,” Sunny added, “with vendors, with customers, with staff.”