Thousands laid off as eateries shut off dine-in options or close their doors

Restaurants say they're seeking government relief amid the coronavirus shutdown.
Restaurants say they're seeking government relief amid the coronavirus shutdown.(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Mar. 20, 2020 at 6:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The job losses in Hawaii’s restaurant industry have been staggering in the wake of the state’s attempt to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

As the state’s mandate barring all dining-in services went into effect Friday, restaurants reported thousands of layoffs.

“Today we had to lay off over 100 employees. It was a very challenging morning for me," said Tom Jones, president and co-owner of Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant.

Jones is also chair of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.

Gregg Fraser, general manager of Viaggo and Italica Bar & Cafe on Kapiolani Boulevard added:

“We operate three restaurants, one on Kauai’s North Shore and these two restaurants. So, we’ve had to layoff about 40 people here and another 25 people on Kauai," he said.

With the new take-out mandate, restaurants have tried to adjust by providing limited take out service and reduced workers’ hours.

But others like those in Waikiki’s hotels have simply closed.

“People are very scared and they don’t know what to do," said Dave Moskowitz, who was among dozens workers at the BLT Steakhouse receiving pink slips this week.

Restaurants and bars employ about 15 percent of Hawaii’s workforce, so many in the industry said that cutting back services to just takeout is going to have a huge economic impact.

“We depend on tips and we have money to take home and now it’s like zero," said Glenn Alminiana, a longtime bartender at the Harbor Pub.

The fallout will also be felt by those in the restaurant industry’s supply chain.

“It’s not just restaurants and their employees and their employees’ families," said Jones.

“It’s also all of our purveyors. We have paper goods suppliers, we have suppliers who deliver fresh local foods, you have farmers and the fishermen."

The state said it plans to offer disaster loans for businesses affected. But the restaurants said that’s not enough to keep them in business.

In a letter to Gov. David Ige, the Hawaii Restaurant Association asked the state for help in getting rent relief and lowering their unemployment insurance premiums. They also called for tax credits, tax abatements and extended health insurance coverage for displaced workers.

“I don’t think loans are what we’re looking for,” said Fraser.

“Is there something the government is going to do for businesses forced to shut down? They’re putting us out of business right now -- you would think there would be some kind of stimulus package or something so that we don’t go out of business."

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