Shutdowns happened almost overnight. Digging out, Hawaii businesses say, will take time.

Brew’d in Kaimuki and Real Gastropub in Kakaako were Lisa Kim’s babies. The pandemic took both away from her.
Updated: Mar. 25, 2021 at 8:14 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Brew’d in Kaimuki and Real Gastropub in Kakaako were Lisa Kim’s babies. The pandemic took both away from her.

First came the layoffs ― more than 50 friends and colleagues she had to let go.

Then came the hoping for better times, and the innovating in a bid to draw back customers. She tried to make money selling beer, but it wasn’t enough.

[This story is part of a week-long series from HNN, “The Pandemic: A Year with Coronavirus,” exploring where Hawaii is and where it’s headed a year after the pandemic started. Click here for more coverage.]

After the shutdown, she never reopened her year-old business in Kakaako. “We looked at the numbers, and it just didn’t make sense to stay open,” she said.

And as for her other restaurant, BREW’d in Kaimuki, she ended up selling it.

“We were very blessed to find a wonderful couple that decided to keep it Brew’d Craft Pub,” she said.

The pandemic has had dire public health implications in Hawaii, but it’s also had significant economic ones. Hundreds of Hawaii businesses, including a number of iconic ones, have closed for good. Restaurants and bars have been among the hardest hit.

With restrictions easing and more people getting vaccinated, there’s optimism that business owners who have made it this far could start the long process of recovery.

That’s what Kristen Keech is hoping for. She’s the new co-owner of BREW’d.

“A lot of people said we’re crazy although they probably didn’t say it to our faces,” she said. “We have a 2-year-old daughter and we did it for her.

After she bought the business, they hired back Kim’s staff. And with more and more restrictions easing and tourism returning, they see a bright future.

“We said, ‘You know what, let’s do it. Let’s give it a try,’” Keech said.

Kim has even been to the business several times as a customer. She’s a fan and she’s hoping things will turn around in her own life, too. “Maybe 2021 is a good year to make changes in our lives,” she said.

But emerging from the pandemic will still be tough, especially for many who are behind on commercial rent and scrambling to woo back customers.

Pho Viet in Manoa is still in the red and hasn’t been able to hire its employees back.

The restaurant’s co-owner, Queenie Wong, is now one of the two workers on the payroll. “Sometimes I have to do triple work,” she said, though she’s happy to have customers returning for a lunch rush.

Closing down for months during the pandemic meant the business had to let go of all their employees. Wong estimates revenues dropped more than 80% last year.

“We just hang in,” she said. “I told myself we have to work and then get it back. And then try to hand in whatever we can.”

Federal PPP loans barely made a dent in the company’s back rent. And they’re still only bringing in half of what they typically did before the pandemic.

But every customer that orders up means they’re a little closer to recover.

Many of the businesses hurting the most rely on tourism dollars. It is the state’s top economic driver and hotels were shuttered for months. Their employees were laid off, waiting for visitors to return.

Nely Reinante was among them. The mother of three was laid off from her housekeeping position at the Hilton Hawaiian Village more than a year ago.

Reinante is also a union leader for UNITE HERE Local 5. The union is fighting to have the hotels start up daily room cleanings so more workers like her can return to the payroll.

She volunteers for the union’s legal clinic and unemployment office.

Reinante offers up her time because she knows how hard the pandemic has been on families. When she lost her job, it was hard to pay rent and put food on the table. It still is.

“Looking with your children, you can give them all their needs. It’s a parent’s responsibility,” she said. “And as a mother, it’s like it’s squeezing my heart that I can’t give those.”

So she’ll keep volunteering to help until work calls her back.

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