If financial conditions for Hawaii restaurants do not improve significantly over the next six months, as many as 65% of them could close for good.
That estimate comes from a recent survey by the Hawaii Restaurant Association, which represents the roughly 3,600 restaurants across the state.
“Let that sink in. 65%, that’s huge,” said Greg Maples, HRA chairman, on Spotlight Hawaii Wednesday morning.
“The ones that are really affected are gonna be our mom and pop restaurants, our small restaurants, our single unit ones, and these are the ones that carry the culture of Hawaii,” he said.
Some restaurants have been able to get by pivoting to take out, but that business model does not work for everyone.
Restaurants in higher tourists areas like Waikiki, many of which have steep rents, have opted to shut down for the foreseeable future. HRA is hopeful that the reopening of transpacific travel will boost the economy, but it is not yet clear just how many visitors will make the trip.
Maples said he and others are optimistic about the newly announced $500 prepaid debit cards to use at local restaurants that the state will be distributing to many residents who have received unemployment benefits.
The $75 million dollar program requires recipients to use the funds by Dec. 15.
“This is such an incredible idea,” he said enthusiastically. “What we’re gonna do is inject $75 million in basically 60 days into the restaurant world. This is gonna be huge.”
HRA is advocating for lease rent relief for its members, some of whom have not been able to pay rent since March.
The state has no money to fund that right now, but Maples said he and others have been working on creating a framework for that kind of program, so that if there is another round of CARES funding, they can move quickly.
Maples said Hawaii restaurant owners have worked tirelessly to meet new health-care guidelines and to operate within Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s four-tiered reopening system. He encouraged everyone to support local eateries because they need customers now more than ever.
“I talk to a lot of people who say, ‘Yeah, I’m just not ready yet.’ I want you to know that the restaurant owners and operators are doing the very best job that they can out there. Remember that we have the strictest guidelines that were written for COVID that restaurants have to follow and we have the toughest mechanism in place for compliance, which is the placard system,” he said.
“Come back, visit us. We’re ready.”
Spotlight Hawaii, which shines a light on issues affecting Hawaii, airs live 10:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook page. Join Ryan Kalei Tsuji and Yunji de Nies this month for a conversation with guests. Click here to watch previous conversations.