by Latoya Peterson
In the April/May issue of Audrey Magazine, Susan Soon He Stanton takes a look at the decline of Hawaiian family-run restaurants in her piece “The Closing of Tradition.”
The article opens on a sad note:
A disappointed woman shakes her head as she reads the out-of-business sign in the window of the Flamingo Restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii, a 49-year local favorite. “I don’t know how much more I can take,” she says before moving on.
The Flamingo Restaurant, along with other Honolulu landmarks such as Columbia Inn, McCully Chop Sui and Wisteria, joins a growing number of Hawaii’s family-owned restaurants – some owned for two generations or more – that have closed for good. Locally owned mom and pop restaurants forced to close has become a nationwide occurrence. However, the loss of these types of restaurants is felt acutely in the islands where a restaurant-goer’s loyalty goes beyond a casual devotion. One man, once the doors of his favorite watering hole closed for good put it succinctly: “You’ve heard of a man without a country? I’m a man without a bar.”
The article goes on to note that the emergence of chain restaurants overtaking local establishments isn’t just bad for business – it’s a direct blow to Hawaii’s own native culture. Chef Alan Wong notes “These local restaurants run by generations of families have always been the backbone of our industry – an offshoot of our plantation heritage.”
The Library of Congress provides some background on Hawaii’s past, and how forced labor and migration patterns shaped the population of the islands:
In the 1880s, Hawaii was still decades away from becoming a state, and would not officially become a U.S. territory until 1900. However, much of its economy and the daily life of its residents were controlled by powerful U.S.-based businesses, many of them large fruit and sugar plantations. Unlike in the mainland U.S., in Hawaii business owners actively recruited Japanese immigrants, often sending agents to Japan to sign long-term contracts with young men who’d never before laid eyes on a stalk of sugar cane. The influx of Japanese workers, along with the Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, and African American laborers that the plantation owners recruited, permanently changed the face of Hawaii. In 1853, indigenous Hawaiians made up 97% of the islands’ population. By 1923, their numbers had dwindled to 16%, and the largest percentage of Hawaii’s population was Japanese. Read the Post Hawaiian Food Disappearing?