Hilo restaurants prep to reopen dine-in services

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Debbie Ching-Maiava gives a shaka by the Ken's House of Pancakes sign on Friday in Hilo.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Jennie Iwasaki laughs while cleaning and renovating Ken's House of Pancakes with other employees in Hilo on Thursday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Nathan Smith, general manager of Cronies, sanitizes a table while rearranging the dining room at the restaurant in Hilo on Wednesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Pineapples co-owner Pam Owens points to a wall while deciding where to put new art with Benjamin Todd at Pineapples on Friday.

Hilo restaurants have been preparing for a “new normal” when they resume dine-in services this week.

In accordance with Gov. David Ige’s eighth supplemental COVID-19 emergency proclamation, Mayor Harry Kim issued an emergency rule that reopens places of worship, personal services such as hair salons, and restaurants.

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Although they are allowed to reopen starting Monday, restaurants must comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines while operating.

Guidelines include operating at half capacity, as well as rearranging dining areas to allow tables to be spaced six feet apart.

Debbie Ching-Maiava operates Ken’s House of Pancakes and Ponds, which have both been closed throughout Gov. Ige’s stay-at-home order.

Ken’s will be reopening for dine-in services at half capacity on Friday, but Ponds will remain closed until July 1.

“We’re feeling anxious to open, because we don’t know how this will go,” Ching-Maiava said. “Half of our customers aren’t here, because they’re tourists, and many are still struggling financially.”

While closed, staff have collected unemployment, and about half of Ken’s employees will be returning to their jobs, she said.

“The first week will be a trial run to see how many people we need on every day,” Ching-Maiava said. “We’ll have to start with a small staff and grow from there.”

Ching-Maiava said she received a Paycheck Protection Program loan that has not been used since Ken’s has been closed through the COVID-19 pandemic. Although happy to have it, she is worried that they will not be able to spend 25% before the middle of June.

Before opening, Ching-Maiava has been leading a crew of 15 to renovate and prepare for the reopening. Staff have taken out all appliances to be power-washed, while other employees have been cleaning every corner of the dining room and kitchen.

“We want to make cosmetic changes along with the changes we’re already making to fit the guidelines,” Ching-Maiava said. “We want to make it as welcoming as possible, especially for our regulars.”

While closed, Ching-Maiava has been calling her regular customers to check up and see how they’re doing.

“They are a part of the daily routine, and we miss them,” Ching-Maiava said. “It’ll be different to see each other in masks, too.”

Although Ching-Maiava is feeling unsure about reopening, she and her staff are ready to see customers and provide good service and food.

“We just hope that people want to come out and see us again,” Ching-Maiava said. “Dining out could be therapeutic for some, even if we are six feet apart.”

Cronies Bar &Grill will be opening at half capacity and following the CDC’s recommendations “to a T.”

“We were toying with the idea of even opening, because we want to keep our community and employees safe,” general manager Nathan Smith said. “We decided to open to help our workers and to be here for people that need that normalcy.”

Cronies has been open for curbside takeout since the beginning of the stay-at-home order. The time has allowed employees to get used to wearing masks and following the safety recommendations.

“Most of the rules are already standard in the restaurant industry,” Smith said. “There will be a little retraining involved to help get everyone up to speed.”

Cronies will be encouraging reservations, but will take walk-ins if space allows.

“The whole tempo of the restaurant will be different,” Smith said. “I know some people are eager to have the dining experience again, but some may still be worried.”

Although it won’t happen all at once, Cronies’ biggest goal is to get all the staff back and working.

“I’m not sure if we’ll be busy or slow during the reopening, so it’s hard to know how much staff we need,” Smith said. “We want all our employees to be working again, and that is our biggest goal.”

Cronies will open at 11 a.m. for dine-in options starting Monday.

“We are excited, but also being as cautious as possible,” Smith said. “This is a first for everyone in the industry.”

Moon and Turtle has been open for takeout and is working on a plan to resume dine-in services.

“We don’t really know how our daily operations will look just yet,” co-owner Soni Pomafki said last week. “The first of June isn’t far away, but so much changes all the time.”

Moon and Turtle is working to make sure they can have a cautious and safe opening for customers and employees before resuming dine-in service.

“We’re running scenarios to see what will be best for our customers and employees,” Pomafki said. “Everyone is very ready to get back and work.”

Pineapples restaurant will be reopening for the first time on Tuesday since closing March 25 because of the stay-at-home order.

“Our current plan is to cut out half of the tables and chairs in the dining room,” part-owner Pam Owens said last week. “We’re renovating the inside to help give it a new look for this new normal.”

Pineapples is rearranging its space, which often was packed on the weekends, to make sure to comply with CDC standards. Employees will be wearing masks during their shifts.

“Wearing masks constantly on the job will be new for people,” Owens said. “So we’ve told our staff to work on wearing masks at home so they get used to it before their first shifts.”

Owens has been redecorating the space inside Pineapples with new art to give returning customers a different atmosphere.

Although she is hoping customers are excited to come back again after a long closure, Owens is not sure how the first couple days will go.

“We have no idea what this new normal will look like, so we’re going to be as flexible as possible,” Owens said. “We’re going to try to make everything as nice as it can be for our customers while still following the rules.”

Amigos Taqueria is a small Mexican restaurant that has been offering takeout since the stay-at-home order began.

Although the restaurant has been getting some business, general manager Monica Orozco has been preparing the dining room with hopes of reopening as soon as possible.

“We are staying busy, but it has not been easy,” Orozco said. “The bills keep coming, so opening the dining room as soon as possible will really help.”

Orozco and her employees have set up three tables six feet apart and have been cleaning constantly.

Employees have been consistently wearing masks and following CDC guidelines, which have prepared them for reopening this week.

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“We are ready to go,” Orozco said.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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