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Eateries, other businesses adjust to new state COVID mandates

Local bars, restaurants and other businesses under Gov. David Ige’s emergency order to limit occupancy to 50% or less say they are in compliance with the emergency mandates, with one Hilo bar and restaurant owner going a step further in the wake of the state’s largest COVID-19 infection numbers since the pandemic began.

“In light of the high cases of COVID-19 currently in our community, we at Hilo Burger Joint are no longer comfortable being open for in house dining and will shift our business to take out and delivery only … until the cases affecting our community are under control,” Hilo Burger Joint owner Rhonda Nichols said in a Wednesday Facebook post. The Kilauea Avenue establishment rolled back its operations on Thursday.

“With the governor’s proclamation for residents to minimize their outings, we would like to be able to serve you, our loyal and local patrons, and keep our families safe too while we all do our part to stop the spread,” Nichols said.

Trish Owens, the kitchen manager at Pineapples Restaurant, told the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday that staff and management at the downtown Hilo eatery are “doing our best to keep our doors open.”

“We’re down to half (capacity), and we’ve been very good and very diligent the whole entire time,” Owens said. “My sister (owner Pam Owens) is in charge of the front, and she’s very diligent about (patrons) sanitizing their hands and temperature checking as they walk in. And some people are rude, not everybody, but some of them. The local people are pretty much understanding and compliant.”

On Friday, Pineapples announced on Facebook that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19 and the restaurant would be closed through Monday.

“We are scheduled to reopen on Tuesday with a staff that is fully vaccinated and all with negative tests,” the post stated.

Makena Bedsaul, a server at Cronies Bar &Grill on the corner of Kamehameha and Waianuenue avenues, said the rapid increase in COVID case counts prompted proactive measures prior to Ige’s announcement.

“We were worried when the cases started doubling, so we actually moved out some tables,” on Aug. 6, Bedsaul said. “We had a slight COVID scare, so it just seemed like the right thing to do. We have been seating at 50%, so we’re a little less than that now. We just wanted to keep things as safe as possible, since we all have families.

“We are short-staffed, with people not applying for open positions, so the 50% capacity makes working easier on us. When people started traveling back to Hawaii, we were slammed, and it was insane in here every day. Now, we’re kind of back to the beginning of the pandemic, so we just keep rolling with the punches.”

Asia Simpson, owner of Mohala’s Bayfront Fish and Chips on Waianuenue Avenue, said, “The new rules don’t change much for us.”

“We knew that things wouldn’t be back to normal right away, so we never made big changes,” Simpson said. “We’re feeling comfortable now and are just glad we don’t have to shut down. We’re staying positive about the whole thing. Tourists are still coming by to dine in while locals usually order takeout.”

Simpson’s comments was echoed by Debbie Ching-Maiava, owner of Ken’s House of Pancakes and Ponds Hilo, two Kamehameha Avenue establishments near the Banyan Drive hotels.

“The new restrictions don’t change anything for us,” Ching-Maiava said. “I only have 50% of my normal staff, so we never began seating above a 50% capacity.”

Naehalani Breeland, president and director of marketing for Ola Brew Co., said her Hilo and Kona locations are “definitely keen on abiding by any … regulations that the governor is implementing.”

“We just want to make sure that we’re keeping our community safe,” Breeland said. “So we’re definitely maintaining the six-foot distancing rule in both taprooms, as well as putting in a couple more precautionary guidelines into place, making sure everybody’s sanitizing as they come through, and that everybody has their masks on when they’re walking around. Things like that.”

Breeland said the Hilo taproom at the corner of Kilauea Avenue and Kekuanaoa Street has an operating capacity of 65 customers, half of what the former Wiki Fresh restaurant could sit at that location.

“We did take out two tables last week, and we have several seats between each party at the bar, as well. But we’re already at a lower capacity than what we were allotted by the county,” she said.

Although Ige exempted places of worship from gathering-size requirements, other businesses also are under orders to comply with 50% capacity and six-foot distancing requirements.

Michele Phelan, operations manager at Penn Training and Fitness on Kinoole Street, said she doesn’t think “the new regulations will affect our operations too much.”

“When we were first able to reopen, we removed about half of our equipment to help our members feel safer with more social distancing. We haven’t brought that equipment back, so we don’t have as many people crowding in any area” Phelan said. “We’re more vigilant about how many people are inside at one time, and our classes will still have a limited capacity to allow people to exercise six feet apart.

“Since the numbers started to rise again, we have had a few kupuna suspend their memberships until things are back under control.”

Phillips Payson, Palace Theater’s executive director, said the Haili Street venue recently staged its live production of “Beauty and the Beast,” which sold out “in the nick of time.”

“We were seating at 50% for that run,” Payson said. “There was an enthusiasm and hunger for the show that was off the charts. It was exciting to actually do the show and was a surreal moment on closing night. We are super thankful to the mayor (Mitch Roth) for supporting that show.

Right now, we’re making sense of the restrictions, but we know we’re able to continue our film programming. We have film dates lined up for August and September, and there is a lot of space in the theater for people to space out. There is not a big risk of a packed house, but we’re scaling back the operations until we figure where things lie.”

“We’re still producing the ‘Night at the Empty Palace Theater’ and those come out every Wednesday. We don’t have plans to stop that program anytime soon. We are exploring the idea of more hybrid live and virtual events, similarly to ‘Home for Hilodays,’ for future events.”

Email Kelsey Walling at

Email John Burnett at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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