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Sheryl Matsuoka: The executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association hopes to get local eateries open and thriving again

                                Sheryl Matsuoka, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association at Panya Bistro in Kakaako.


    Sheryl Matsuoka, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association at Panya Bistro in Kakaako.

What has been the effect of the COVID-19-related Hawaii restaurant closures?

According to the results of Sept. 14’s COVID-19 Hawaii Restaurant Impact Survey, 66% of Hawaii restaurant owners say they laid off or furloughed employees in July and August; 65% had said they planned to lay off or furlough employees over the next 30 days in September.

Overall, 48% of Hawaii restaurant operators do not expect their staffing levels to return to pre-coronavirus levels within the next six months.

How is this different from the normal, pre-COVID business climate for restaurants?

It’s very, very different. We are still at 50% dining-room capacity while required to pay 100% of our rent, utilities, insurance and all expenses. We need insurance coverage to keep our doors open, and rent is due, so each week restaurateurs are looking at which invoice to pay, just to keep our doors open. We have 100% of our bills with less than 50% of our normal revenue.

What are the best strategies for ensuring that once-thriving but now-struggling restaurants are able to survive COVID-19 restrictions?

Many restaurants already are creatively using the best strategies to ensure that they keep their doors open, by implementing touchless menus such as QR codes or apps. QR codes and apps are here to stay. They minimize the number of menus that need to be printed, which lowers printing costs.

Restaurateurs are creative entrepreneurs; many created family meal packs. I know many restaurateurs are getting ready for the holidays. These restaurants have family meal packs for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. I hope that our community will support restaurants by purchasing the packs. Restaurateurs also have started selling frozen pre-made meals.

Once this pandemic passes, I feel that you will see a new restaurant model that always includes a takeout, catering or family-pack offering. Takeout, catering and family packs have been the main source of revenue during the COVID-19 dining-room shutdowns. Restaurants that only focused on the dine-in model have created new takeout offerings.

Touchless menus, touchless payment systems, pre-ordering and pre-paying will be in high demand and become the new normal.

How much impact will the $500 restaurant card for the unemployed (which will be distributed beginning today), have on local restaurants?

This will be huge! The Hawaii Restaurant Association would like to send a heartfelt thank you to Gov. David Ige for approving CARES Act funds for this program. $75 million will be infused into our restaurants. The money must all be spent by Dec. 15 at 11:59 p.m. According to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, for every $1 spent at a Hawaii restaurant, $1.82 is contributed to our Hawaii economy. Plus, this program will save 1,000 jobs.

Is there a particular restaurant that closed that you will miss?

Gosh, that is a really hard question. There are so many restaurants that I will miss. Da Kitchen: That was always one of our stops when we visited Maui.

On Oahu, the Top of Waikiki is a landmark restaurant, the only revolving restaurant in our state. The views and the food were amazing!

REAL Gastropub, where many a “meeting” was held. Great food, great owners and they were only there for such a short period before COVID-19 hit. It saddened me to hear that they were permanently closing their doors.


>> Current title: Executive Director, Hawaii Restaurant Association

>> Professional background: Executive director, National Utility Contractors Association; executive director, Honolulu Executives Association; executive director, Hawaii Jewelers Association; director of technical support, Toshiba Business Solutions

>> Personal background: Graduate of Kalani High School. Happily married to Lyle Matsuoka; we live in Manoa with our Maltese, Coco Chanel. Daughter Sydel lives in Los Angeles.

>> Favorite thing to do: Travel, spend time with family, be with our friends and all of these things have been non-existent since COVID-19.

>> One more thing: Our restaurants are facing the challenge of a lifetime, so we are doing everything we can to provide the resources and support needed to bring our community together around our tables once again. Restaurants are going above and beyond to ensure a safe environment, and we encourage our community to support our local eateries by dining out or ordering in.

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