Chef Beverly Gannon is stunned. Like many in Hawaii’s tourist-dependent hospitality industry, the celebrated chef, caterer, and owner of two renowned Maui restaurants was not prepared for a global pandemic, or a sudden forced closure.
Gannon started a catering company on the island in 1980 and now helms the prestigious Hali’imaile General Store upcountry and Gannon’s: A Pacific View Restaurant at the posh Wailea Golf Club. Just as she was beginning to allow herself to entertain retirement fantasies, she’s found herself back at square one, trying to secure funding to reopen her restaurants (with dining areas modified for social distancing), once the COVID 19 pandemic winds down and vacationers return to Hawaii’s fabled beaches. This is not how she imagined crowning her storied career of four decades.
The waiting game is a tedious one, and dates to reopen are a moving target as the pandemic swells on the US mainland and state travel restrictions are extended. Meanwhile, Bev has joined forces with dozens of other Maui restaurateurs to form a “united front” in petitioning local government agencies and others for help. Calling themselves the Maui Restaurant Hui, the group, which started as a few friends commiserating in Gannon’s backyard, now represents more than 150 member restaurants. Collectively, they’ve written an open letter to the Maui County Department of Liquor Control which they ran as a full page ad in the Honolulu Star Advertiser’s Maui Edition June 21, and distributed on social media at the end of June. In it, they make a variety of requests aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on licensed food establishments.
A share of the Federal CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) money that the county received, rent relief, and a break on utilities during the shutdown are other key objectives.
Dignified and thoughtful, Gannon speaks in the blunt, matter-of-fact tone of a wise elder, weary of debate and wary of the unnecessarily complicated machinations of government regulation, especially when it comes to licenses for alcohol service, for which the county is notoriously strict. (This is the agency that cited Maui Brewing Co. for giving away much-needed hand sanitizer with food or beer purchases early in the pandemic, when it was in short supply.)
“I find it really interesting that, after years of trials and tribulations we’ve had with the Department of Liquor Control, now that we’re all shut down, we all kind of feel like, ‘well, we’ve got nothing to lose,’ so we’re trying to make things better between us and the DLC and get more of a united front — a partnership.” After all, she points out, the Department’s own budget is derived largely from taxes and fees paid by the restaurants, bars and catering companies that it regulates. In cooperation with the Department, the Hui would like to change certain rules “to better fit the new design of restaurants and how restaurants will run” in the new normal.
Specifically, Hui Members are asking for changes to liquor law enforcement that would allow for streamlined permitting of outdoor seating areas to accommodate social distancing (without having to reduce dining capacity by 50%) and the flexibility to reposition satellite bars, dance floors and seating within the licensed premises without having to define those areas. (Under the current system, gaining permission to simply rearrange the furniture can take months.)
Hui members would also like to see the current temporary county policy allowing the sale of alcohol with “to go” orders and deliveries made permanent. Suspension of licensing fees for 2020 and 2021 would be helpful, too. As would a simplified electronic license renewal system, like that used on Oahu. And a simplified notification process for license holders to serve alcohol while catering off-site events.
There are a lot of items on their wish list, and Gannon is skeptical about winning on all fronts. But for a lot of these business owners, it’s do or die, so they have to try.
“We’re in our infancy. It all started with a bunch of us bitching to each other about what was going on,” the award-winning chef explains. “We started the Maui Restaurant Hui so that a group of us could get together and talk about all off the issues that we’re all facing right now — being closed, or open and just doing takeout. The issues we have with our landlords, or whatever it is,” Gannon explains.
The coalition started on a Zoom conference call among six people and grew from there. Once she reached about a dozen participants, Gannon decided that the Zoom calls were becoming unwieldy and suggested that they meet as a group.
At the end of May, about 20 people joined Bev in her backyard. “We were all just getting together, commiserating and crying.” But that led to discussions of how folks who stayed open for takeout were faring, and how others were doing in negotiations with their landlords and vendors.
“Everybody who’s in the restaurant business works their ass off and make a lot less money than what people think we’re making,” she asserts. “It’s a fine line every day,” even in normal times, she goes on. “And then suddenly you find yourself closed down” without warning. “What we’re doing now is we’re asking for help. Whatever kind of help we can get.”
Some of the help that many local restaurant owners have been able to get hasn’t been that helpful. Gannon got her PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) money early, in April, and was originally required to spend it by the end of June. “But I’m closed, and I’m not going to bring back employees to do nothing to just spend that money. I think that’s not right.” Now the spending deadline has been extended to 24 weeks from receipt of the funds, which gives her until the end of October. But she’s still not sure if she’ll be open by then. She even tried to return the loan to her bank and reapply so that she would have until the end of the year to spend the money. The Federal Government’s “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t quite work for every business. Or every state.
“In Hawaii, we need our PPP money to be able to be spent once our islands open up. We can’t open until we have flights here and we have hotels open and we have customers that will book our restaurants,” she insists. “We’re in a unique situation here. We’re in the middle of the ocean, and especially on Maui, let’s face it, we’re totally dependent, in our business, on the tourist trade.”
“It’s gonna be brutal for the next couple of years here. I hate to say it, but none of us are thinking that it’s going to be easy. At all.”
Restaurant owners already have enough burdens to bear, she argues, without adding regulatory burdens — rules and regulations which she and the Hui members agree are limiting their ability to remain viable as they adjust to the need for social distancing and constant sanitization. “I want people to know that we’re working really hard on making it so that, when we open, you’ll feel as safe as you can feel walking through the doors of our restaurants,” Gannon says.
A cordial phone call with Maui Mayor Mike Victorino in June gave Gannon hope, as he expressed support for many of their proposals. But after a noncommittal response to the Hui’s letter from the Department of Liquor Control at their July 8 meeting, she seems deflated. “Now it’s another month,” she laments, clearly frustrated with the glacial pace of the local bureaucracy. “When they see us all closing, maybe they’ll get it.”
And what if Maui restaurant owners don’t get the relief that they seek? Says Gannon, “Everybody’s going to be eating at home a lot. And all of the socializing that happens, you know, the camaraderie and the friendships and the entertainment of restaurants will be gone. It will all just be gone.”
Hali’maile General Store offers Chef prepared meal kits for home:
Fans of Chef Gannon and the Hali’imaile General Store can still enjoy the classic flavors of her kitchen and support the business by ordering “Hali’imaile at Home” chef-prepared meal kits online at HGSMaui.com. Each kit feeds 2-3 people and menus change weekly. Pickup time is between 3pm and 6pm, Wednesday through Saturday and orders must be received 24 hours in advance. For custom meals or catering inquiries, please call (808) 572-2666.
Maui Restaurant Hui Mission Statement:
We are a community of restaurants along with the support of our farmers and fishermen
that have come together to ensure the success of our industry in an ever-changing
Together, we aim to provide the highest standard of service and hospitality that Maui is
known for across the world. Our goal is to unify the Maui restaurant industry by connecting
people, ideas, and resources to promote economic growth and the safety and welfare of
our community, our families, guests, employees and the local community.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE DEPARTMENT OF LIQUOR CONTROL:
Maui’s restaurant industry has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Even in the best of times, the restaurant industry is a precarious one. Now, we are mostly closed, with landlords and vendors knocking at our door. We have an estimated 10,000 Maui chefs, cooks, kitchen staff, wait staff, and busboys unemployed. The future is bleak for 2020 and 2021 without the reopening of our visitor industry.
What we, the Maui Restaurant Hui seek, is a cooperative effort by government and regulators to adjust and modify the rules imposed upon us so that we can adapt to the “new normal” in a way that will help us survive as we move forward.
We are asking the Department of Liquor Control for assistance with the following:
• Quick and efficient permitting for outdoor areas to accommodate social distancing.
• All liquor licensee’s should have the ability to allow for satellite bars, dance floors,
music, service, and other activities within permitted areas, inside or out, without
having to define those areas. Licensees need the ability to change where things are
depending on the needs of the restaurant as long as they are within the licensed
• Delivery of alcohol with food-to-go orders on a permanent basis.
• Catering license should be allowed with a simplified notification method.
• Suspension of liquor fees for restaurants for 2020 and 2021.
• Simple renewal of licenses and fees via an electronic system such as used by Oahu.
• Review and modification of existing rules and regulations to reflect today’s restaurant
In order for us to endure, we ask that the Department of Liquor Control partner with us by changing and/or modifying some of the rules to adapt to the “new normal.” This would help us through one of the toughest situations in the history of our Island.
We would like to be given the opportunity to be a part of the changes that will update and streamline on how we operate for a better, safer food and beverage service industry that is a vital part of the Maui community. We look forward to a response.
We in the hospitality industry are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to open our businesses and welcome back both guests and employees. We are fully aligned that a healthy and safe Maui for both our residents and visitors is our primary goal. We also understand our role in driving the economy on Maui and look forward to getting back to whatever the new normal will be. We are anxious for our state to reopen and are ready, willing and able to get back to work.
Maui Restaurant Hui
The next liquor commission meeting will be held August 12 at 9am over the bluejeans system. To submit public testimony and participate https://bluejeans.com/131178866
Here is the current agenda. https://www.mauicounty.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/27526
Story and Image of Bev Gannon by Dan Collins