For some they were forced to shutter their doors, for others they remained steadfast and chose to brave the empty seats, the dining room closure and the coronavirus. These unprecedented times have led to record unemployment filings, insurmountable jobless claims and numerous losses. While lack of revenue, loss of sales and a struggle to put meals on the table at home has impacted us here in Hawaii and around the globe, there is a sense of hope, unity and aloha that can be felt.
People have come together and as neighbors, friends and family they are proving to be resilient. In the midst of stay-at-home orders, local restaurants stayed open, determined to feed the hungry, first responders and those on the frontlines. Many have had to pivot in ways they’d never expected, but through it all — doing what food usually does, nourish the heart, body and soul.
“Having been in business since 1995, it was heartbreaking to close our doors in March and furlough our long time employees. We were so grateful to receive some PPP funds which allowed us to reopen our restaurant (in April) and also continue to pay for our furloughed employees’ medical insurance,” Chef Paris Nabavi owner of Pizza Paradiso Mediterranean Grill said.
“Being honest, it is a really tough time for everyone. We’re finding comfort in hand-delivering meals to Kupuna and families in need in our community along with First Responders on a weekly basis. We are thankful to be able to keep our doors open for to-go and delivery while being able to keep our employees on the payroll,” Chris Kaiwi, principal partner of Taverna said.
Transitioning to takeout-only created a shift for all to adapt and change, but some were committed to toughing it out and making it through. Many had to resort to social media and word of mouth to let people know they were open. Meanwhile, some from Wailea to Kahului and on to Kapalua offered incentives and specials but once the decline of visitors, diners and revenue began they realized many promotions were not sustainable and staying in business would be painstaking.
“The business side has been dramatically affected by the mandates to close in-room dining, and with the fluid situation of this event, it is very stressful. We are trying to take this time to think out of the box when it comes to how our customers will dine with new restaurant rules and safety regulations. With people becoming connected through technology more than ever due to social distancing, we are introducing our first Virtual Wine Dinner Series next month while partnering with Kapalua Food and Wine Festival along with Jackson Family Wines. We’ve started to offer our very popular Mock/Craft Cocktail Mixers and other items on our menu that allow customers to enjoy at home if they wish,” Kaiwi adds.
Meanwhile Maui Fresh Streatery completely changed the way they do business by converting to a zero contact, meal prep-style of grab & go service. “It’s been really challenging a lot of chefs and restaurants have closed or are unemployed right now. We decided to change not only the way we cook in that our meals are all done meal prep style they are pre-cooked, chilled and refrigerated for customers to take home with them and reheat at a later time, but also the service when you come to the truck has changed in that zero contact means customers stay in their cars and we set up a table for them to pay and gather their meals,” Kyle Kawakami, Chef and owner of Maui Fresh Streatery said.
The popular food truck took one week off after COVID-19 initially emerged, they decided to assess the situation and then proceed with new and improved efforts to stop the spread of any germs and prevent any contact from staff and/or customers. Open on Fridays only the other days are spent giving back to the community and also preparing meals for island kupuna.
“We started something called the Kokua Meals Initiative, which is a way for us to support our senior community where customers are able to purchase meals, or sponsor meals, and donate to provide meals every week for seniors that are socially isolated and unable to get to the stores to purchase groceries. We began with 30 melas a week and have gone up to 200-250 right now,” Kawakami said.
Staying a float has been a challenge but a major bright spot has been the outpouring of support, community and care from others. People have generously donated their time, money and expertise to make things work and share aloha during this time of pain, suffering and loss. As many gear up for restaurant reopening and dining statewide on June 5th, one can only hope this experience has taught us to maintain fortitude, dedication, adaption and a strong purpose of community.