‘One taco at a time’

  • Courtesy of Hilda Morales

    Tiki Tacos owners Hilda Morales and Bard Widmer are excited about their grand opening in Waimea despite the new COVID-19 changes.

  • Courtesy Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce

    Mark Perriello is president and CEO of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce.

  • Courtesy of Leilani Mayer

    Stay at home? No problem. Independent business owner Leilani Mayer goes on her day as normal using social media as one of her business platforms.

  • Courtesy of Tricia Ruiz

    Celebrating the grand opening of Kiawe Roots are, from left, Assistant General Manager Krystina Baptiste, Executive Chef Partner Rodney Baptiste, General Manager Partner Tricia Ruiz, and Chef Partner Mark Ruiz Jr.

LIHU‘E — COVID-19 has affected many businesses on Kaua‘i, and owners are finding creative ways to stay open and serve the community.

General Manager Tricia Ruiz of Kiawe Roots and her team had to make the decision of closing down their restaurant temporarily in hopes of keeping all employees and customers safe.

“Our decision to close the restaurant temporarily was something we did not take lightly, but ultimately our priority was to be considerate of the health of our team members, our family and community,” Ruiz said.

“The only way to stop the contribution of spreading infection was to close our doors until we can find a better solution for minimal-to-no-contact service during this high-advisory period.”

Ruiz is carefully considering trying the take-out system that most restaurants on Kaua‘i have moved on to instead of the traditional dining-in service to help feed the community and keep their business going.

Kaua‘i residents Hilda Morales and Bard Widmer have taken a different approach. On March 11, in the midst of the chaos, the duo quietly opened their second location of the restaurant Tiki Tacos, in Waimea. The original location is still slinging tacos out of their small restaurant in Waipouli, with social-distancing rules in place for customers.

“COVID-19 has brought a wave of calm to our family life and a sense of excitement and joy to our work life. Ironic? I know. We are blessed,” said Morales.

Morales said the Waimea community has opened up their support to their new restaurant in a time when most people are losing their jobs.

“If there was a lesson about life that we have learned from all of this, it is to be grateful for what, and who, you have in your life, and to take it all just one taco at a time,” said Morales.

For other business owners who already work at home and utilize social-media platforms for business growth, staying at home is a different opportunity to grow.

According to Leilani Mayer, while working at home she is spending more time in prayer, focusing on her health, and spending more time with her family.

“Change is good, and right now it’s more than necessary to re-evaluate things in my life that don’t serve me or help me to evolve. It’s like spring cleaning for the soul,” Mayer said.

Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Perriello said that to say times are difficult for small businesses on Kaua‘i “is an understatement.” He is inspired by the transitions some small businesses have made.

“It is encouraging to see so many businesses creatively adjusting their business model in order to stay afloat,” Perriello said. “For example, many restaurants have elected to stay open and offer pick-up, delivery, and drive-through services only.”

The Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce has compiled a list of these businesses at COVID19Kauai.com

According to Perriello, not all businesses have the option of staying open due to COVID-19 measures. Those businesses are encouraged to determine the eligibility requirements for U.S. Small Business Administration COVID-19 disaster loans by visiting www.sba.gov/disaster.

“The chamber encourages employers to help their employees during this difficult time. If you need to lay off employees, please provide guidance on applying for unemployment benefits,” Perriello said.

“The chamber is currently surveying the business community on the impacts of COVID-19 on their operations. You can find the survey on the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce Facebook page,” he said.

“Last week, over 400 businesses participated in the chamber’s COVID19 webinar. We are planning a second webinar focused on business finances. Look for an announcement on our Facebook page soon.”

Perriello anticipates that additional money will be made available through the recently signed federal economic stimulus package.

“Once that money is released, the chamber will provide our members and the business community with information on how to access those needed funds,” Perriello said.


Stephanie Shinno, features and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.

  1. crazyjanes March 30, 2020 7:19 am Reply

    Adorable. But also, can the garden island do stories on services for the homeless, how are the elderly doing and doctors and nurses? All I see is businesses that are “reluctantly complying”. The tone of the garden island seems to be pro business and churches. What about the rest of us? Where is the count for today? Why do Kauai people need to go to another newspaper to see how many cases there are on Kauai? Please stop with this. We need updates on the virus. Not how cutesy everyone is, rubbing up against each other and not keeping social distancing, obviously in this picture. Please do not print pics yes I know these people are couples, but it still sets a bad tone. Doctors on the front lines are not going near their wives. Have some common sense. I have heard there may be another daily publication coming to Kauai. It may behoove this newspaper to get off the ball and stop touting the Trump Doctrine. Your tongue in cheek reporting is becoming far too blatant, and is offending a lot of people here on the front lines.

    DO some stories on social workers, phsychologists, teachers, doctors, nurses, people like that. Yes we know restauraunts and tourism is affected. We also know these poeple are going to benefit from the stimulus package. Our concern is for the safety of workers, still having to show up to work becasue owners want to make money. Will it be passed down to the employees? Will the employees be safe? Its all about the “workarounds”.

  2. jake March 30, 2020 12:52 pm Reply

    It’s time to shut down. One sick food preparer can infect hundreds of people, and “take-out” doesn’t mean any margain of safety is being maintained. Close down. Let people process, prepare, and cook their own food. You’re a potential distrubutor of the
    virus on a grand scale.

  3. sarah March 30, 2020 4:32 pm Reply

    I agree with both posts above! today, i saw business as usual on Kauai with cars everywhere, people everywhere, everywhere open! I went top purchase something, and the cashier, who was wearing no PPE, not even gloves, handed me back my change. I told her to keep it, and I walked out the door. I will not shop there again I will also tell everyone I know to not shop there either. So wake up, businesses! If we see you giving lip service, and mocking the virus we will not give you our business because that means you could be spreading the virus to us your customers. If you want the PRIVILEGE of staying open, comply or you should lose even more business than you are right now! Deservedly so!i don’t care how badly i need stuff! The virus can live on metal for days! If you are handling money without any gloves, and conversely if you are shopping without wearing gloves, you are transferring the coronavirus as easy as pie.

    Kauai, you need to wake the aych double ell up! You think this is a joke? And I wholeheartedly agree with the first poster! We need another paper that doesn’t pander and give candy coated coverage all the time! I had to go to the Oahu papers to find out we had 12 confirmed cases with community spread. Where are our updates from the mayor? This is why virtually no one is complying! Why is everyone so brain-dead?

    Do you really think there won’t be deaths, and it wont be people you know and you are immune? There are less than 20 ICU beds on our island. They will go tho the rich, and young not you, slinging taco’s named “tiki”. I don’t care if its locals. That just makes it worse, and makes us look dumb!

    Lock it down tighter, mayor. They aren’t getting the message! You will have to treat them all like the five year olds they are acting like! “But I don’t wanna do social distancing and wear gloves and masks!”. SHEESH!

  4. mina March 30, 2020 8:44 pm Reply

    It’s become quite obvious that this newspaper is a tourism brochure, not a bonafide newspaper for grown-ups. I have to rely on outside news sources like the Star Advertiser, etc to find out what’s going on with this island. Local restaurants, you need to shut down. Offering take-out is too dangerous if you have an undiagnosed contagious carrier preparing your food. It’s time to boycott these business and force them to close. Your remaining open is nothing less than a hostile gesture coated with self interest. Don’t try to sell us on the idea that you’re staying open for us. All you’re seeing is $$$ at the risk of killing people. It speaks volumes about who you really are.

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