Chef Alan Wong’s flagship King Street restaurant has become a permanent casualty of the pandemic.
Wong said he was turning in his keys Monday, which was his 64th birthday.
He is not departing the restaurant scene, though, he said. “This is not the end. Maybe in a better time, a better day, we’ll do something different. It’s time for a new chapter.”
In August Wong announced a “temporary suspension” of operations at the 25-year-old restaurant, hoping to reopen in several months. By Monday, though, he’d decided it was time to “retire” the restaurant.
Alan Wong’s Restaurant opened in April 1995, in a space leased from Zippy’s, with Francis Higa, Zippy’s co-founder, as key investor. In an interview with the Star-Bulletin in 2004, Wong said Higa advised him to look beyond the location — off the tourist path and without a view. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about the building, don’t worry about the address. Just cook and they’ll come.’ I never forgot that.”
A year after opening, the restaurant was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award for best new restaurant in the nation, and Wong won the award for top chef in the region (Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest).
Chef and restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi, one of Wong’s closest friends, said it is especially sad that the closure is the result of circumstances Wong could not control. “It’s one thing if you have to close for lack of business acumen or something like that, but when you lose something that has been great for so long and has done so much for the state of Hawaii, you hate to see that happen.”
But Yamaguchi said Wong’s passion for nurturing the next generation of Hawaii chefs and for promoting the local food scene means he will be back, “and it’s going to be fantastic.”
Master sommelier Chuck Furuya, who worked with Wong for years on projects outside the restaurant, called the closure “the end of an era.” Wong, he said, “is one of the great, world-class chefs off all time from Hawaii. I really look forward to his next chapter.”
Wong said packing up his office made him nostalgic but that he had no regrets. “I had a great time, and I have so many people to thank,” Wong said. “I have every single employee from Day 1 to today to thank.”
The restaurant’s furnishings, including dishware, appliances and furniture, are up for bid in an online auction that ends Nov. 15, through Oahu Auctions and Liquidations.