Maui restaurants plead for rule changes to stay in business

Updated: Jul. 7, 2020 at 6:02 PM HST
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MAUI, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui's restaurant industry has been hit hard by the tourism shutdown during the pandemic.

Now, some owners have teamed up to ask for rule changes to help their businesses survive.

The Maui Restaurant Hui estimates that there are 10,000 unemployed chefs, cooks, and staff members from the more than 150 eateries in the group.

Chef Beverly Gannon, who owns three businesses including Haliimaile General Store, said she probably won't reopen her restaurants until October at the earliest.

"We need the hotels to have people in them, and most of us can't open until the hotels open and are at least 40 or 50% (full)," Gannon said.

The group recently took out a newspaper ad urging the Department of Liquor Control to help modify some rules. The requests include allowing the delivery of alcohol with food-to-go orders on a permanent basis, and suspending liquor fees through next year.

“Fees are a critical part of the operation of the department and because part of the department’s budget is dependent on the fees,” " said Nane Aluli, chair of Maui County’s Liquor Control Commission. “The fees are not going to go away.”

The restaurant hui is also asking for a review of existing regulations as well as quick permitting of outdoor areas for seating.

"If there is the ability to spill over and maintain the social distancing and still be able to get more people into the restaurant, it gives you a better shot at being able to make it," said Peter Longhi, owner of Longhi's Wailea.

The group's concerns will be discussed during the Liquor Control Commission's meeting on Wednesday.

“We may facilitate by rules some of the requests that they’re asking for, but at the end of the day, honestly, financially, I don’t think it’s going to be helpful to them at all until the visitor industry comes back.”

Struggling restaurants, however, are looking for any kind of relief in order to stay in business.

"We are going to lose at least half of the restaurants here if something isn't done to help us reopen when we can," Gannon said.

The commission will meet through a BlueJeans video conference that starts at 9 a.m. on July 8.

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