WAINIHA — The last restaurant at the end of the road of Wainiha on the North Shore of Kaua‘i is holding on by a thread this week with the lowest sales since opening three years ago, while still recovering from the April floods of 2018 and from the government shut down in March of 2020.
Opakapaka Grill And Bar owner Gregg Fraser said since opening his restaurant in August of 2017, it has been nothing but a struggle to stay open.
“This is the worse week we had in three years,” Fraser said. “Before COVID-19, we were just starting to break even in March of 2018, then the floods hit in April of 2018. We had 14 months of no visitors, roads were blocked or closed. Hanalei Colony Resort opened in December of 2019.”
“We started doing well in January of 2020 until the government shut down businesses later in March of 2020,” said Fraser.
The emotional turn of events has left Fraser and his employees with more uncertainties than possibilities.
“Since then we have been on this roller coaster,” Fraser said.
Fraser said his restaurant has never closed even with the island being closed or open to the tourist industry.
“We are going to open for a little bit, then we are closed,” Fraser said. “Open again and now Kaua‘i is the only island where we have visitors have to quarantine, and this latest thing of staying in O‘ahu for three days isn’t doing anything for our visitor industry.”
According to Fraser, his restaurant revenue was averaging $175,000 a month, which quickly dropped to $20,000 a month after the April floods in 2018. However, after the pandemic began, things got even worse for him.
“This is the sad thing about all of this — even though your revenue goes down, all of your expenses like electricity, payroll, your other bills don’t really go down the same percentage of your revenue,” Fraser said.
When Fraser first opened Opakapaka Grill And Bar he had 36 employees, which was reduced to eight to 10 employees after the April floods of 2018 and back up to 22 employees after the flood.
Fraser said he currently has a skeleton crew of six to eight employees and doesn’t make any profits for gain but instead he stays open for two important reasons.
“We are only open for our employees and the community,” Fraser said. “We are still paying out a lot to pay our employees so they can pay their rent and put food on their table. Some of them need medical insurance. We stay open for our community and our employees so they can afford to live. We are certainly not making any money.”
Fraser is looking forward to another round of PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans so he can pay his staff and make sure they are taken care of.
“I had the PPP loan and a little bit for the SBA (Small Business Administration) Disaster Relief loans, but remember they are loans, which means I have to pay all of that back. I owe over $100,000.”
Although Fraser’s restaurant has been struggling, they did find ways to give back to the community.
“During the April floods, we feed everyone for free for two months, so everyone knows us as the community center or community hub,” Fraser said. “During the pandemic, we started our take-out delivery service so kupuna didn’t need to leave their homes. And the food bank comes to our parking lot outside to donate to the community.”
Manager Morgan Stevenson has worked with Fraser since the beginning, and says it’s been stressful.
“It’s been a struggle,” Stevenson said. “We have been doing the best we can to keep our doors open. We are all working hard to keep them open. I wouldn’t know what I’d do if I lost this job.”
Stevenson misses when the community came to visit after pau hana and understands that everyone is struggling.
“We would like to see some locals come in,” Stevenson said. “We know people lost their jobs. It would nice to see people back in.”
Fraser has a message for government officials and lawmakers: “I hope we don’t get swept under the rug or forgotten,” Fraser said.
“We are all the way out here, and so many times we are forgotten about. Very few people make it out to us.”
Opakapaka Grill And Bar is only open for dinner, six days a week, Monday to Saturday, and can be found four miles after Hanalei’s post office. “Just keep driving,” Fraser said.
This story has been modified on Sunday at 2:07 pm to add corrections.
Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.