These Food Industry Veterans Remind Us to Support Each Other in Times of Need

In uncertain times, one nationally renowned restaurant group and one local bakeshop owner are keeping the aloha spirit alive.

One of the hardest hit industries in the state of Hawai‘i, besides tourism, is the food and beverage service industry. Out of about 85,000 food industry workers, more than 35,000 have lost their jobs due to the pandemic crisis between January and April of this year. And while Hawai‘i is already seeing signs of an economy slowly recovering, the impact of COVID-19 will last long after the pandemic runs its course. But as these unimaginable circumstances affect our everyday lives, it’s now more important than ever to appreciate the business owners who are still looking out for their community, work ‘ohana or even other business owners.

 

Stripsteak Waikīkī
photo: courtesy of stripsteak waikīkī

 

One example is the MINA Group, a national restaurant brand with two local locations: The Street Food Hall and Stripsteak Waikīkī at International Market Place. Many restaurants had to adjust to these difficult times, and MINA’s were no different. Like many other restaurants, they continue to serve the greater community by offering food for takeout and delivery. To show appreciation and support, first responders and industry members receive 20% of their phone orders. But one thing that sets these sister restaurants apart from most is how they continue to look out for their staff during this time.

 

“As a part of the greater MINA Group ‘ohana, every meal that is purchased directly benefits over 300 furloughed employees and their families through the MINA Family Meal Program,” says Scott Suemoto, sales and marketing director of the MINA Group’s Hawai‘i division. MINA Family Meals are available free of charge to its employees, offered in place of the daily family meal that employees typically receive. Individuals can pick-up meals twice a week, which is enough to feed them and their immediate family. “To date, we’ve distributed over 6,500 meals in Hawai‘i and will continue to do so until normal operations resume.  We also launched a GoFundMe campaign at the end of March to raise funds across our entire MINA Group restaurants across the country to help feed our more than 3,000 furloughed employees and their families,” Suemoto says.

 

Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery Gayla Young
Gayla Young, owner of Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery in Kaimukī.
photo: Catherine Toth Fox

 

Another story spotlights one local business owner, Gayla Young of Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery in Kaimukī, and how she’s been sharing the aloha spirit during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Hawai‘i’s shelter-in-place order began in response to the pandemic, businesses were forced to either shut down or pivot to online orders and curbside delivery. Fortunately, Young, who at the end of February had just set up online takeout and delivery in preparation for Fat Tuesday, was prepared for it. But she soon realized others weren’t so lucky, and one business in particular needed some help.

 

Kyung Cha, owner of Kyung’s Seafood in Makiki, was not tech savvy. She knew nothing of online ordering or social media. She didn’t even own a computer. So when COVID-19 struck, her business began to suffer greatly. Young, who was a regular patron, felt so bad for Cha that she decided to help her out. Because her online ordering platform was already in place, she approached Cha and asked if she wanted to sell Kyung’s Seafood poke bowls on the Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery website. All Cha would need to do it make the orders, and she would keep 100% of the profits—Young would not take a cent of earnings.

 

Young took to Instagram on April 1 to take preorders for Kyung’s poke bowls. By the end of the next day, 125 orders came through. “We had no idea if this was going to work,” Young says. “It was just a last-minute idea to support her—and it was really successful.” Cha couldn’t believe the response and was moved by Young’s kindness. “In the beginning, I had a hard time, but after that, it’s getting better,” Cha says. “I’m very happy for that. I appreciate her.”

 

 

Since April 1, local food brand Poke Stop has taken the initiative to give back to the community by starting Giveback Wednesday at its Mililani Mauka location. Since the pandemic has affected everyone, even leaving some jobless, operations manager Tristin Lobendahn and his team decided to create giveaway items—such as soups, or fresh greens from Mari’s Garden, all able to feed up to six people—to families in need. Lobendahn also credits companies such as Garden Valley Seafood, Ham Produce and Peterson’s Upland Farm, which were able to provide Poke Stop great deals to support this endeavor. “From April 1 through June 10, we were able to feed an average of about 150 families each Wednesday,” says Lobendahn. “As a small local business, we have been fortunate to remain open and have done what we could to help out our community.”

 

The COVID-19 pandemic may not be over just yet. But in these troubled times, it’s reassuring to know that the aloha spirit is alive and thriving. And it’s stories like these that remind us how simple acts of kindness can be life-changing.