Kaua‘i restaurateurs pivot with tighter restrictions

  • Laurel Smith / The Garden Island

    Owner of Olympic Cafe Troy Trujillo worries about the long-term effect pandemic restrictions will have on his restaurant.”(Customers) get mad at me. They don’t get mad at the health department. Will they come back?” he asked during an interview Aug. 17.

LIHU‘E — Over a week since new restrictions on restaurants have taken effect, businesses are bouncing back after initial confusion.

“It was difficult to find out what the new restriction are,” said Kaua‘i Beer Company Marketing Director Larry Feinstein.

The most current order, effective Aug. 10, required restaurants to reduce indoor capacity to 50%, down from 75% earlier this summer. Patrons must remain seated with their party with 6 feet of distance between them and other parties. No mingling is allowed under the order, and masks must be worn at all times except when actively eating or drinking.

The impact of the restrictions has affected businesses on Kaua‘i unevenly.

Kaua‘i Beer Company and Rob’s Good Times Grill, both located in Lihu‘e, have outdoor seating. Representatives at both restaurants attributed their outdoor seating to helping them to keep stricter COVID-19 protocols than the state and county currently require, so when the latest round of restrictions were instated, neither restaurant had to make any major changes to their operations.

That wasn’t the case in Kapa‘a at Olympic Cafe, which has no outdoor seating. Owner Troy Trujillo estimates that with the restrictions he can fit at most 60 people in his restaurant that has a capacity of 258.

The labor shortage is also adding to long lines, and in some cases forced restaurants to do midweek closures. Trujillo questioned whether or not the restrictions were making it difficult to attract workers.

“It’s extra work because you have to police things,” said Trujillo. “It’s really difficult.”

Rising COVID cases are also putting restaurant operators on edge. For Trujillo, that’s meant holding off on buying new equipment in case those funds are needed to survive another lockdown or more restrictions.

For some restaurants, take-out options have alleviated strains of the new restrictions.

Front of House Manager Gail Mande at the Puhi location of Kenji Burger estimates that 40% of sales are take-out.

“We’ve been doing really good here,” said Mande. But she also acknowledged that things have slowed down in the last week, and long waits for tables have caused some customers to walk out.

Rob Silverman, owner of Rob’s Good Times Grill, has noticed a slowdown in business as well. “People are concerned and not as willing to go out as much as they were,” Silverman said.

Several restaurant managers and owners, including Silverman, said that it has been incredibly challenging to operate in a feast-or-famine market. Some voiced fears that additional restrictions on dining and travel would have disastrous consequences for Kaua‘i restaurants.

Silverman expressed frustration at how long these challenges could continue. “People have to get vaccinated so we can move on,” he said.


Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or lsmith@thegardenisland.com.

  1. Nalu August 20, 2021 9:44 am Reply

    I work for a big resort on the island and at one of the restaurants within this resort. We just had a group of 200 check in. They took at 4 tables out of our restaurant. I asked how come we are not running at 50%? How are we still able to do large groups? The answer i got from management was that hotels are exempt from these covid rules. Our restaurant is still doing over 300 covers a night. Im blown away

    1. RGLadder37 August 20, 2021 7:58 pm Reply

      Your point being?

  2. Evelyn August 20, 2021 10:21 am Reply

    Olympic Cafe was shut down for a few days in May because the owner wasn’t aware of mask mandates, and now he’s complaining he can’t fill his restaurant. It’s been years since I’ve eaten there, and now I know I won’t ever again.

  3. Kainoa Maltis August 20, 2021 10:41 am Reply

    Restaurants have been Covid spreaders. Complain all you want but it is what it is. Why put the entire community at risk? Olympic Cafe was already sited for not following the rules. No mask enforcement, too many people crowded in. The owner protested vehemently to open up tourism and now look where we are.

    There are plenty of restaurants that have strictly followed the rules for the good of Kaua’i and made sure everyone was masked and spaced with no mingling. Those are the restaurants we should give our business to. Olympic Cafe is not one of them.

    I drove by yesterday and saw all the tables close together, back to back. People crowded in. SMH I wouldn’t eat there if it was free!

    1. Doug August 20, 2021 6:43 pm Reply

      Could not have said it better myself!

    2. Cheryl August 21, 2021 1:09 am Reply

      We’ll be visiting in November; a week on the south shore then a week in Princeville. You mentioned that there are restaurants ‘playing by the rules’ in terms of maintaining COVID restrictions. Can you share recommendations?
      Thank you!

  4. Anson Agrade August 20, 2021 12:32 pm Reply


  5. Joe Hiddin August 20, 2021 1:29 pm Reply

    “People have to get vaccinated so we can move on”… does NOT stop the spread of the virus….

  6. Lawaibob August 20, 2021 1:33 pm Reply

    Guy is anti vax and anti mask. Poor baby.

  7. RGLadder37 August 20, 2021 8:04 pm Reply

    I’m off tonight at Cheesecake factory in Waikiki. I work part time. They have business at 75% occupancy. And we close at 10:00 pm. It is hectic Friday nights. I work as a chef. Part time work. But it is income in. Tonight the place is jammed pack. Face mask is a must.

  8. jake August 21, 2021 9:45 am Reply

    Restaurant owners are stellar examples of people who are more than willing to get you killed for money. If they really gave a darn about their customers, they’d close down and look for something else to do.

  9. Steve August 22, 2021 5:02 am Reply

    We’ve lost an awful lot of freedom (that we will never get back) over a virus about as deadly as the flu that’s been here forever.
    You can’t mandate away a virus, but you can lose your liberty trying.

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