Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Aside from the health risks for those infected with COVID-19, the economic consequences of the pandemic have affected almost everyone. Everybody has had to sit on the sidelines for weeks. Whether you were furloughed, lost your means to earn a living, faced food and product shortages from shoppers hoarding, or have grown frustrated from the temporary closures of your favorite producers, or from retail outlets being deemed non-essential — the economic impact has been pronounced. And though the most severe consequences have been loss of life and jobs, as a food and wine writer, I’ll focus on the outcomes for the food and beverage industry.

Like Like Drive Inn Restaurant

On April 30, the official closing date, Likelike Drive Inn employees taped sky-blue posterboards to the storefront and left colorful pens for the community. Diners wrote messages, offered balloons and flowers, and even posted photo arrays of happy eaters, now memories of the past. The "67" means years in business. (Photo courtesy of Kenrick Yoshida)
On April 30, the official closing date, Likelike Drive Inn employees taped sky-blue posterboards to the storefront and left colorful pens for the community. Diners wrote messages, offered balloons and flowers, and even posted photo arrays of happy eaters, now memories of the past. The “67” means years in business. (Photo courtesy of Kenrick Yoshida)

James and Alice Nako opened the Like Like Drive Inn in 1953 and later passed it on to daughter Dora and son-in-law Roy Hayashi. Like Like was a Honolulu mainstay, partly due to its homestyle local food and partly due to the diner’s non-stop hours. A generation ago, when I frequented discos such as Rumours, Steel Wings and La Mancha — all of which stood about a block away from Like Like — before heading home, my friends and I often made that our last pit stop for a bowl of saimin and French fries to sop up those adult beverages consumed during the night. And the staff was constant and very friendly.

On April 1, Like Like announced the closing of its doors in accordance with the island-wide shutdown. However, it later announced that the shuttering would be permanent at the end of that month. And because restaurants still weren’t allowed to open in April, regular patrons never got the chance to say goodbye or indulge in that last meal.

Ahi Assassins

What started as roadside sales of freshly caught fish by couple Joshua Schade and Erika Luna, eventually grew into a brick-and-mortar location in the heart of Mö‘ili‘ili in 2013. Featuring locally line-caught fish, Schade and Luna offered the usual array of poke along with hot plate-lunch favorites like kalua pig and garlic shrimp. Routinely voted one of the top five poke establishments by Frolic Hawaii readers, Ahi Assassins also regularly participated in community events such as the annual Honolulu PokeFest. But with the economic slowdown after COVID-19, the owners announced that their last poke bowl would be served on June 14.

Terry’s Place aka HASR Bistro

Owner Terry Kakazu opened the HASR (“Highly Allocated Spoiled Rotten”) Wine Co. almost 15 years ago after running Terry’s Place, a karaoke and live music bar in the Chinatown Cultural Plaza for several years. HASR Wine Co. featured boutique California wines and hosted twice-weekly wine tastings at the back of the shop.

Kakazu’s next venture was HASR Bistro, a restaurant she opened adjacent to the wine shop. She recently re-branded the restaurant as Terry’s Place, named after her original karaoke and music bar. However, once COVID-19 appeared, she closed both the restaurant and wine shop during the city shutdown, electing not to do take-out but hoping that the closing wouldn’t be prolonged. When she realized that it would continue longer than anticipated, she started serving bento and Waffle Hot Dogs (using the original waffle makers of the Asato family who founded the former KC Drive Inn) to lead to a re-opening of HASR Wine Co. Unfortunately, as many other businesses proved unable to successfully re-open, Kakazu realized that “back-to-normal” would take quite a while, so she decided to close Terry’s Place for good.

REAL gastropub and Bent Tail Brewing Company

While writing this column, I occasionally would view my Facebook feeds. This is how I saw the announcement that REAL would not be re-opening, which was posted about 10 minutes after the restaurant’s “End of an Era” message. The husband and wife team of Troy Terorotua and Lisa Kim opened REAL gastropub in 2012 in the Ward Farmer’s Market which we visited on multiple occasions. When the building was demolished to make room for another Kaka‘ako condo, it took another year and a half before REAL opened a new location, complete with its Bent Tail Brewing Company microbrewery. We had enjoyed REAL’s Happy Hour at the original location which, at 2 p.m., started earlier than most (hey, it’s always 5 p.m. somewhere in the world!). We would have the pub’s poutine (gravy-and-cheese-curd-covered French fries) and the Irish Car Bomb (a dessert with a chocolate-stout brownie, Guinness gelato, Bailey’s Irish Cream anglaise and Jameson Irish Whisky caramel). And I am sad to admit that we never visited the new location which was open for just a little over a year. As REAL’s final post ends, “Until our Next Beer!”

A Rough Reality

During the COVID-19 crisis, local celebrity chef Alan Wong stated that even during the best of times, most restaurants average about a 5% profit margin — some of them more than this, though for a lot, a little less. And this small margin is during regular operations. The government guidelines that accompanied the June 5 re-opening of in-house dining required that restaurants now can seat only 50% of their usual capacity. If you had asked most restauranteurs pre-COVID-19 if they would have been satisfied with just turning half of their tables, they probably would have recommended not getting into the business. Now add on the extra cost of disinfectants, additional take-out containers to make up the in-dining losses — and you see why some establishments decided to throw in the towel. The restaurant-closing list will probably expand by the time you read this column.

Even take-out doesn’t cut it. Transplanted celebrity chef Lee Anne Wong of Koko Head Café originally offered take-out as the city’s closure orders were implemented, but she stopped after a couple of weeks. She stated that her cost was about $2500 per day, but her revenue was only $1500 per day; that the $1000 daily loss was better served paying for health insurance for furloughed employees. Saving those daily losses also positioned her for the long run, once in-house dining was again allowed.

How Can You Help?

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, if you have a favorite restaurant that’s still doing take-out, patronize it. We’ve been doing take-out at least twice a week and have continued even as the in-house dining ban was lifted. As we see it, no extra labor is required to disinfect a table, and if the establishment is already continuing take-out, those take-out containers are already a cost on the books. We also order wine or beer to go, to help the restaurant’s additional cash flow. Regular take-out may not be so great for the waistline, but I would hate to read in another article that Vino or Fête or 12th Ave Grill is on the bubble or has decided to shutter for good.

Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar (Restaurant Row)

Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar’s Chirashi Sashimi available at Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar ($19.95) while Sansei remains shuttered. (Food photos courtesy of Ryan Tatsumoto)
Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar’s Chirashi Sashimi available at Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar ($19.95) while Sansei remains shuttered. (Food photos courtesy of Ryan Tatsumoto)

Because they are offering dishes from Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar which remains closed, we usually order Vino’s Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Crispy Cauliflower ($11.95 each) and whatever special Chef Endo has for the weekend. We also love Sansei’s Chirashi Sashimi ($19.95) and its Sakura Platter ($48.00), which includes 30 pieces of mixed nigiri and rolled sushi. And Vino’s 2016 Abbatucci Valle di Nero Rosé ($46) is the best rosé I’ve sampled all year.

Fête (downtown)

Fête’s Rigatoni with Kaua‘i Ranch Beef Cheek Ragu ($22 individual; $99 family pack).
Fête’s Rigatoni with Kaua‘i Ranch Beef Cheek Ragu ($22 individual; $99 family pack).

The Rigatoni with Kaua‘i Ranch Beef Cheek Ragu ($22 individual or $99 family pack) and Niihau Lamb Sausage Cavatelli ($25) are both great pastas while the Ludovico Twice Fried Chicken with spicy tomato jam ($28) stays crisp, even on the drive home. And sample the Fête 75 cocktail — enough for five cocktails, with gin, elderflower liqueur and a whole bottle of Prosecco ($41).

12th Ave Grill (Kaimukï)

Fried Avocado ($13) combines crispy and creamy while the Smoked Ahi Bruschetta ($12.50) is the same smoked ahi spread sold at R. Fields locations plus a grilled baguette, vegetable relish and house-dried Hauʻula tomatoes. Finally, the Family Mac-n-Cheese ($21) is the perfect side to almost any main course.

Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (gochiso
gourmet.com).

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