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Economic mixed plate for local restaurant industry

Chef and owner Kenneth Lee, front left, with his staff at XO Restaurant.
XO Restaurant
Chef and owner Kenneth Lee, front left, with his staff at XO Restaurant.

If it’s possible for ups and downs to happen simultaneously, that’s what is happening right now for Hawaiʻi’s restaurants.

As PBN learned in a recent roundtable with industry leaders, customers have returned as Hawaiʻi moves away from Covid rules and anxieties.

On the other hand, labor is in critically short supply, inflation is taking a toll on costs, and supplies are still spotty due to supply chain issues.

Restaurants are having sticker shock, and inevitably having to raise their own prices.

For Chubbies Burgers, a box of vinyl gloves has gone from $5 to as much as $25.

Kenneth Lee, chef-owner of Restaurant XO, said chicken has gone from $1.80 to $3 per pound.

At restaurant Nami Kaze, the rice bran oil it buys by the bin has gone from $45 to $70 in the past year.

Greg Maples, a past president of the Hawaiʻi Restaurant Association, said HRA members have seen costs rise as much as 20% across the board.

Then there’s the labor component. The pre-Covid restaurant workforce has not come back.

Panelists speculate that some former workers have left the Islands, and many are simply finding easier jobs or better hours in the visitor industry or in other service sector industries.

Restaurants are raising wages to compete for people. Lee of Restaurant XO solved his staffing issues by raising pay to a starting level of $50,000 a year, something he acknowledges won’t be possible for more affordable restaurants.

A. Kam Napier is the editor-in-chief of Pacific Business News.
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