[HJCC COVID-19 Conversation: Members Moving Forward] Alan Wong (Chef/Owner, Alan Wong's Restaurants)

Jill Kuramoto

About the Author
Jill Kuramoto is the Chief Communications Officer & Client Development Director of RKT Media. She has been a member of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce since 2014.








Alan Wong
Chef/Owner, Alan Wong’s Restaurants
[HJCC Member since 2012]

How has your company adapted during this time? 

Initially, when the Governor declared the stay at home quarantine and suspended operation for restaurants with dining room service, we decided to keep everyone safe at home, and shuttered the restaurant on March 19th. When the stay-at-home quarantine was extended for another month, we decided to re-open and do take out.  This decision was made because even though we were completely closed, we still have bills coming in almost daily. Things that are on a lease basis, still get billed monthly. Some businesses would charge a fee to remove their product (even larger than the monthly charge), with a similar return fee when we resume service. Facing double the amount, we stayed with our monthly charge. Insurances, gas, electricity, & other expenses still keep coming in.

What has your company done to pivot and do you think this will continue into the future? 

Our pivot was to do takeout as mentioned, and I think this will continue for a while. The public is fifty-fifty on whether or not they want to come out and risk getting the virus. One half wants us to reopen. It is likely we will not see a vaccine until next year, thus keeping half of the public at home, similar to now. The dining landscape has changed, and I think it will affect us for a long time moving forward.

In what way has your industry changed and what do you think it will look like going forward?

The idea of going out for dinner has changed. The economics for a restaurant business has changed. When government says you have to stay six feet apart, what that means is that about half of your tables and seats are reduced. With the profit margins being slim as it already is, this alone, might contribute towards many small independent mom and pop restaurants perishing. Doing half the amount of people may reduce the workforce by as much as half, leaving many unemployed. What I am not hearing much of, is the fact that the producers, the small farmers, our distributors, are also going to slowly disappear as they are not sustainable if a lot of restaurants close.

What advice do you have for other businesses? 

First of all, many businesses got their PPP monies. Be very careful in knowing what is forgivable, and what to do with any unforgivable part of that. In other words, be careful about taking another loan; no matter how attractive it sounds, it is still a loan and has to be repaid in two years. Most new restaurants that opened in the last ten years or so, will have a rent to pay the landlord, and a monthly loan amount to repay the bank. By taking on another loan, that means three bills need to be paid right off the bat, a heavy debt load to endure. If possible, stick to two bills rather than three.

What is giving you hope right now? 

There is a silver lining in everything. To keep oneself optimistic and positive are the beginnings of an entire work culture believing the same. It is a time to reinvent yourself and perhaps, your business. We are in uncertain times. If you don’t have deep pockets, only the smarter ones will survive this; so think things through, keep your emotions in check, make smart rational decisions that support you, and your team.

About Alan Wong
[HJCC Member since 2012]

In the world of gourmet cooking, critically-acclaimed Chef Alan Wong is well-known for his unique creative flair. A renowned master of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, Chef Wong has made a highly-successful career out of marrying elements of different ethnic cooking styles using the finest Island-grown ingredients.  He’s received numerous awards including James Beard Foundation Best Chef of the Year, Pacific Northwest (1996) and Best New Restaurant in the US (nominated) (1996), American Culinary Federation Achievement of Excellence (1994), and Fine Dining Hall of Fame (2002). www.alanwongs.com

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