Some hiccups reported with restaurant card program

  • Contributed

    Jobless residents who received the Hawai‘i Restaurant Card have spent more than $17 million since the program launched in mid-October.

KAPA‘A — Since mid-October, unemployed residents on Kaua‘i have been “supporting local” by using their $500 restaurant debit cards issued by the state as part of the Economic Relief Program at local eateries. But restaurant owners say there are a few hiccups with the program that surfaced when the cards were first issued.

“At first we saw a few issues with this restaurant card,” Robert Kubota of Pono Market in Kapa‘a said. “I really feel for the kupuna. There was no list from this new program of where they could use this, so at first, the kupuna were hesitant to use it, but they really wanted to support local businesses, which is what this was intended to do.”

Kubota said there were other issues that came up from other restaurants. One issue is when the cardholders would purchase food but overuse their spending limit the next day, causing the restaurants to lose that sale.

“In order for the restaurants to get paid, they would close out their register earlier in the day,” Kubota said. “Also, I heard some restaurants have signs saying they do not accept the card.”

However, Kubota is extremely happy to see the kupuna come into his eatery to purchase their favorite laulau.

“Some people feel ashamed to use it,” Kubota said. “They shouldn’t feel that way. We don’t ask what kind of card they have and, for their convenience, they can slide their card on our point-of-sale terminal. The funds are used to feed them and support local, so no shame.”

Since the restaurant cards have been issued, Kubota said he has seen a 3 to 4% increase in sales.

“We are so grateful for this card that helps our people and our community,” Kubota said.

Kaua‘i establishments participating include Java Kai, Midnight Bear Bread, Japanese Grandmas, Kaua‘i Kookie, Kalaheo Café & Coffee Company, Bubba Burgers, Bull Shed Restaurant, Chicken in a Barrel, Coconuts Fish Café, Hukilau Lanai, Kauai Juice Co., Kenji Burger, Mariachis Mexican, No. 1 Chinese, Olympic Café, Kountry Style Kitchen, Street Burger, and Pono Market.

According to the Restaurant Card program, last week alone, Kaua‘i businesses saw a total of $88,489 spent at restaurants, bakeries, fast-food establishments, and catering.

While some businesses had issues, others said things went smoothly.

Jillian Waechter, an employee of Java Kai in Kapa‘a, said they had no issues with the card.

“No problems. It worked every time,” Waechter said. “We did see an increase in sales, and people were calling to see if they can use it here. People are very grateful to support locals. We are happy to see this card given to the people in our community.”

Gwen Yamamoto Lau, Hawai‘i Restaurant Card program administrator, said as of Nov. 1, some 103,384, or 88%, of Hawai‘i Restaurant Cards distributed, have been activated.

“Since cardholders first started using the cards, more than $17.2 million has been spent at restaurants, bakeries, fast-food establishments, and food catering statewide, which equates to over $1.15 million being injected into Hawai‘i’s restaurant industry daily,” Yamamoto Lau said.

A list of restaurants that accept the debit card, go to


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