Monterey Bay Canners restaurant and bar has been a nostalgic throwback to the 1980s in Aiea for 37 years, the launchpad for well-known local musicians, and a home away from home for staff and customers.
“It was a place to come out and have fun,” said Martin Valencia, general manager for 29 years. “We’d serve you, you could listen to good local music. It was just the place to be.”
The seafood restaurant — which included a lanai overlooking verdant watercress fields — opened at Pearlridge Center in 1983 and is owned by Aloha Restaurants Inc., based in Newport Beach, Calif.
Closed since the coronavirus pandemic lockdown began in March, the restaurant will not reopen, unable to survive under the 50% dine-in capacity allowed by law.
“There’s no way we could keep going,” Valencia said. The restaurant, which had a staff of 50, tried offering takeout, but the paltry sales weren’t worth it, he said.
“We tried to stick it out, but we were looking at more loss than gain.”
The restaurant built its reputation with seafood platters, sashimi and specialties like fresh oysters that other restaurants in the area did not serve, Valencia said. Other customers posting on Yelp mention generous portions, reasonable prices and a friendly staff.
“Every time you’d go there you’d see someone you hadn’t seen in a long time, and you’d always have a good time,” said Lisa Long-Hess, an alumnus of nearby Pearl City High School. “It was real local and a really friendly vibe.”
Long-Hess recalled performances by Jack Ofoia and other musicians, as well as open-mic Sundays. “When we were adults it was the gathering place for Pearl City grads. When we were kids it was where we’d go with our families for a nice dinner, especially the seafood.”
Garry Moore, a Pearl City graduate best known since the 1990s as a Little Richard impersonator, would sometimes go on stage and sing with the bands.
“For many years it was our late-night place to go to,” Moore said. “Loved seeing some of the local bands playing there, too. A lot of my friends gigged there. We would have birthday parties there with friends and family.”
Aloha Restaurants’ CEO Jim Glasgow had been renegotiating the eatery’s lease, which expired in January, but then the coronavirus shutdown began, Valencia said.
Escalating operating expenses also made it prohibitive to continue, he said, and the restaurant’s popularity waned as regulars grew older and trickled away. Old-timers would still come by occasionally, but attracting new customers was a challenge amid competition from so many other restaurants, he said.
Joseph Colello, a loyal customer and a 1979 Pearl City graduate, weighed in: “It’s a travesty that Monterey’s ended up closing. It was one of the last old- timers’ hangouts that we used to frequent when we were growing up.”
Valencia said his staff is still in shock, and hasn’t yet been able to discuss the future. “One of my cooks has been here since Day One,” he said.
“It’s actually our home away from home, because we spend more time here than home. The bond we have with everybody, it’s a family thing, not like a boss-employee relationship.”
Star-Advertiser writer Dave Reardon contributed to this report.