Hawaii Restaurants: Capacity, Staffing, Security Struggles + Death of Roy’s-Trained Chef

Restaurants in Hawaii are facing unprecedented times, and the issues are at so many levels.

Starting earlier this month, Hawaii implemented new vaccination passport requirements for restaurants on Maui and in Honolulu. That is creating unanticipated problems at a time when restaurants are already struggling in a multitude of ways. Those include inadequate and demoralized staffing, reduction in capacity limits, and more.

Vaccination passport rules are now in effect on Maui and Oahu.

Earlier this month, rules went into effect on two islands. For those who are vaccinated, the ability to frequent restaurants is unaffected. For those unvaccinated, however, it presents a difficult situation.

1. In Honolulu, under the new Safe Access Oahu rules, diners must provide proof of vaccination or negative testing to enter.

2. On Maui, the rules, called Maui Safer Outside, require that customers provide evidence of vaccination to be admitted indoors. Outdoor dining only is permitted without such proof.

Hawaii restaurants find that customers aren’t always happy to comply with the new rules, and restaurant staff is stretched to the limit. Restaurant employees never envisioned themselves as security enforcers, and restauranteurs can ill afford any further problems at this point. Some restaurants are hiring security to help manage the situation, and at times police have also been summoned, and citations have been issued.

When customers do not comply with new rules, the onus falls on the restaurant, and they could face serious consequences, including $5,000 fines or jail. Restaurants must follow the rules; they don’t make them.

Many employees never returned to Hawaii restaurants.

Hawaii restaurants are still struggling to find employees for a variety of reasons. Those include government and employer vaccination or testing mandates, as well as a significant number who decided not to return to the industry after being unemployed during COVID.

Hawaii restaurant capacity is set at 50% for now.

Hawaii restaurants operate at a maximum of 50% capacity, while no “mingling” is permitted in bars. “Patrons in restaurants, bars, establishments must remain seated with parties maintaining six feet of distance.” — Governor Ige.

Eating out for lunch? Maybe not.

We have noticed that many restaurants are no longer keeping their normal hours. Be sure to check to be sure your favorite venue is still serving lunch.

Restaurants hit by COVID include the latest death of a Roy Yamaguchi-trained chef.

We were sad to learn this week of the death of the Westin Maui’s talented executive chef, Chris Lederer. The Roy’s (Roy Yamaguchi) trained talented chef was a rising star in Hawaii restaurants. His fiancee, to whom he was scheduled to be married next year, said that Chris was unvaccinated. A Go Fund Me has been set up to help pay for his memorial.

Are your Hawaii restaurant plans changing?ย 

As for your editors, we are both still eating out far less than before. When we do eat out, we are often choosing take-out instead of in-restaurant dining.

61 thoughts on “Hawaii Restaurants: Capacity, Staffing, Security Struggles + Death of Roy’s-Trained Chef”

  1. Please be kind — venues are only enforcing the rules that have been set for everyone’s protection. It’s not personal, and definitely no one’s idea of fun.

  2. Hello. I’m wondering if you know about island hopping…. Were going to kuai but would like to hop over to Oahu for a day. Hoping they there are no restrictions in place for that…. We are vaccinated.
    Thank you

    1. We returned yesterday from 16 days in Kona. Had a wonderful visit. Restaurants we went to were following 50% capacity. All wait staff wore masks and customers wore masks till served. Yes hours were different but we checked first and adjusted our eating out times. Everyone we encountered was very nice and welcoming. One tour we went on, the guide wore mask. And was a great tour guide too! In stores all were masked. Visitors too. No problems. Very glad we decided to go ahead and go. I made sure any souvenirs we bought were from small businesses and Hawaiian made. Great visit! Aloha

  3. Hi Rob and Jeff.
    I just went to the Go Fund Me for Chris, and it’s stating that it’s not allowing any donations.
    Please let me know how to donate to help Katrell and Kia’i.
    His food truck in Lahaina is Da Kine. ๐Ÿ’”๐Ÿ’” Covid is a cruel, evil thing.

    1. Hi Pam.

      Not sure what happened to that page as it was working earlier. If we find out anything, we’ll let you know.

      Thank you. J/R

  4. Aloha,
    Husband and I are arriving in Kauai next month for our Anniversary. Haven’t been to Kauai since our honeymoon 20 years ago. We will have a kitchen in both locations (Hanalei & Waimea), but would like to eat out for at least one meal each day. We won’t be eating inside anywhere. Figuring on food trucks and take out… Maybe delivery? Does anyone have tips on how to negotiate the food industry to help sustain them without adding undue stress? I always carry snacks since my husband is a Type I diabetic, but he/we can’t get caught in a crazy wait time situation if his sugar is bottoming out (which happens more easily with hiking/activities/etc). We usually eat meals early, even in the national park where we live, to avoid lines, crowds, wait times. Any suggestions for specific places and/or tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

    1. Hi Babette.

      We don’t have any recommendations regarding not stressing the food industry beyond what you already mentioned. Others may provide input.


    2. Can’t speak to Waimea, for something decent to eat before 3 pm in Hanalei, Hanalei Bread Co. has a very tasty breakfast sandwich. A decent L&L BBQ and Chicken in Barrel for lunch, or the deli counter at Foodland in Princeville. There is a taco truck next to the Big Save. I’m not familiar with the food trucks next to the liquor store. Driving by, many of them look closed. Quick sugar rush would be Pinks Ice Cream. After 3 pm, Kalypso for adult beverages, hit and miss for food. But get there by 3 pm when they first open (closed Tuesday), to avoid the wait line. Avoid North Shore Grill for reasons I wont get into in this blog comment. Lots of people like Barcuda/Ama (same owners, different menus), although we rarely go there. Same with the Dolphin and the Fish place across the street. All only open for dinner at 5pm these days, and not all nights. Nui is too touristy for us. Opakapaka in Wainiha has best fish and chips on the north shore, but very limited hours 5-8 pm (closed Mondays) and there will be a line starting around 4:45. Our favorite is Bistro in Kilauea. Happy Hour 3-6 pm daily. Prime Rib dinner special Friday evenings (get a reservation). The upscale market in Kilauea would be good for lunch or something to nibble on (PV Eats is gone, but same owner). We haven’t gone to Tiki Iniki for years, but if you are a COVID paranoid person, so is the owner, so you may be more at home there. Opaka also very COVID-paranoid friendly place with tables spread out at least 10-15 feet. They’ll even take your temperature. Probably you should avoid Bistro if you are COVID-paranoid.

      Have a great time, and be prepared for realty to be way better than you might anticipate reading some of these comments.

      1. Many thanks, David B… exactly what I was looking for! Very specific and I was more concerned about Hanalei due to so many choices and didn’t want to wait until we had feet on the ground to figure it all out just before moving on. Excited about all your recommendations…even wanted a happy hour idea! Can’t express how much you’ve helped us.
        Covid paranoid or Covid savvy? People in my parts (Vaxxed & not) are dropping like flies (dead or serious health issues for the rest of their lives). I plan to be one of the few at the end of the zombie movie that are still alive.
        Mahalo. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        1. Sure thing. Upon reflection, I left out the Hanalei Gourmet, which I think is still open for lunch on some/most days. Hit or miss place, food wise. There is also a new coffee shop in the building that used to be a specialty health food store. I don’t know their food options. And a fruit smoothie stand in the Big Save parking lot. Speaking of Big Save, they have pre-packed sandwiches and a warmer with spam musubi, if your husband likes that sort of thing. That’s where a lot of the trades and landscaping guys stop to grab something for lunch.

          Vaccinated people are “dropping like flies” in your “parts”?? Where is that? I’ve not heard of vaccinated people dropping like flies anywhere. The narrative is that the vaccine prevents you from dropping like a fly.

          So far, about 0.2% of the US population are considered to have died from COVID, or at least to have died after recently having a positive COVID test. Over half of those were aged 75+. A long ways to go for the Zombie apocalypse, but as the saying goes, just because you are paranoid (or “savvy”) doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you!

          1. Thanks again for the Big Save info. That could really come in handy if we’re in a tight spot. Happen to know if there is anything beyond Opakapaka to Ke’e Beach (food truck, coconut drink stand, smoothie, etc)?
            I’ve seen your 2%/75+ numbers before. Do you have the numbers on those people with “serious health issues for the rest of their lives”? There are a lot of possibilities between death and healthy. I have a few vaccinated friends who ended up getting covid and they didn’t die. But, they are not doing “fine”. I don’t want to just be alive; I want to live. I’m not obese, don’t smoke, or do drugs. I’m kinda paranoid those factors would affect my good health.

          2. There is nothing after Opakapaka to Ke`e. But that’s only a couple miles of road. There is a little store in Wainiha that has snacks and smoothies, ice cream. I forgot they reopened with a new owner this past winter.

            It’s not 2%. It’s 0.2% That is one-fifth of one percent. That number plus the median age (I think is around 77) come straight from the CDC, but there’s plenty of other tracking entities. I’ve never heard of any tracking % of persons who recover, but have “serious issues”. Maybe as the years pass, that can be guesstimated, but unless people are actively seeking care it won’t be accurately known.

            You don’t mention the “parts” you are from where vaccinated people are dropping like flies. According to CDC, as of Sep 20, 2021, 181 million Americans are fully vaccinated, of which approximately 20,000 have gotten sick enough to be hospitalized (known as “breakthrough infections”) and about 4500 have died. They only provide age data, not co-morbidities, obesity, etc. Project/speculate as you will.

          3. Thanks again for the extra Wainiha information. And sorry for the typo on your stats and if I offended you with the use of the term “dropping like flies”. Not sure why you want to argue with me, care where I’m from, or what my experiences with infectious diseases are. In my household, we’re kept up to date by our state with the numbers (here) because decisions are being made weekly on how to keep our local community safe. So, it’s a bit on my mind. If you want to simultaneously help people while belittling them, fine. You are correct. I’m paranoid. But, who on this website cares? I’ll do me and you do you. I will continue to carry some hand sanitizer on my person, just like I did before this particular pandemic happened. Sorry, Covid, I’m just not that into you.

          4. My apologies, Babette. I was not trying to belittle you. You had originally mentioned people dropping like flies in your parts, vaccinated or not. I just wondered where that was happening.

            My wife has been carrying around hand sanitizer since I can remember. bottles of it everywhere in the cars. She was a school teacher (now retired). Something about a room full of germs.

            Have a nice visit to Kauai island. It is a great time to visit, IMO, notwithstanding that the governor does not want you to. But, shops and restaurants on Kauai will be pleased you did.

  5. Mahalo Rob and Jeff for the update.
    I couldn’t believe that Chris passed away. Way to young and such a beautiful heart. We’ve lost so many ohana lately. After thinking that 2021 HAD to be better than 2020, it’s sadly way worse.
    Even just looking at the comments on this site, breaks my heart to see such sniping, meanness, and fighting among our people.

    United we stand, divided we fall. We’re so divided.

    I asked my tutu if she remembers losing anyone to the flu over her life of 96 years. (She’s as sharp as a tack) She said no, but she’s lost dozens during Covid.
    People like to say that it’s only serious for the elderly and immunocompromised. That’s untrue. We’ve got a friend on the mainland who’s 16 year old is on a ventilator. No previous medical issues. EVEN if it were true, when Covid kills someone who’s been just fine for decades WITH a medical condition, or being an elder, it’s pathetic that people think it’s okay if they die from Covid. It’s NOT alright.

    Please please please stop arguing about what’s clearly a catastrophic event right now.

    Mahalo for reading. My heart is hurting and I pray for Chris’ ohana to have peace and comfort in knowing he was, and will be for eternity, an incredible person that’ll never be forgotten.

    Aloha ๐ŸŒบ

  6. It is so easy to eat “take out” – at least on Kauai – it’s our favorite way to eat dinner. Why, you ask? We don’t have to get “dressed up” after a day of sun/sand. We can drink as much wine as we want and not have to worry about driving the dark dark dark of Kauai after sunset. We get to have a beautiful view from our lanai without having to pay for it! We get to eat much less expensively. We get to experience more authentic local food. And, most importantly, we don’t have to suck in our stomaches as we walk out after a big meal in front of other diners! (Some of our favorites close at 2:00 so we pick up dinner right when they open, stash it in our fridge or microwave, and then head out for the day!)

  7. Aloha-

    Are still choosing takeout more out of COVID fear or other reasons? We are coming soon and have felt that outdoor dining with ocean breezes is extremely safe.


    1. Hi Jon.

      Others may comment. We’re choosing take out because it just generally works better under today’s circumstances.


      1. Aloha! We are in Kauai right now, staying at a hotel on the east side. We made reservations well in advance at a number of open air restaurants near the ocean, and plan take out for other times. So far this is working out very well. Be nice and you will be treated well. The only time our patience has been tested on this trip was at the understaffed rental car office at Lihue that had to deal with a number of unprepared visitors. Otherwise, itโ€™s paradise as usual here. We are vaccinated, took a test before our flight and brought along a test kit just in case. A few extra hoops are no big deal when the rewards are as great as they are here. Mahalo!!

        1. Aloha Laurie:

          I highly recommend Monico’s in Kapa`a if you are staying on eastside. He gets fresh fish daily and makes excellent Mexican-style seafood.

          They are essentially open air, but a roof in case of rain. The Olympic is fun for adult beverages. Technically “inside” but the breeze goes straight through (so does rain in some sideways squalls). I can’t recommend eating there (never look inside the kitchen), although I admit to doing so from time to time and I’ve survived so far.

          Sam’s Ocean View for Sunday brunch.

          If you are a consumer of adult beverages, Taps & Hops (close to Safeway). The Happy Hour pupus hit the spot – also good for watching football games.

          Enjoy your visit.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top