How Highway Inn is trying to survive the pandemic


HONOLULU (KHON2) — It is a tough financial time for thousands of businesses in Hawaii. COVID-19 has forced many businesses to close their doors permanently.

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Highway Inn is one of the many businesses struggling to make it through the pandemic.

Known for its ono Hawaiian plates, tasty beef stew, and popular loco moco, Highway Inn has been serving Hawaii for over 70 years.

“Highway Inn was born in 1947 with three employees,” said third-generation owner, Monica Toguchi Ryan. “We had my grandpa, my grandmother and a dishwasher.”

Monica Toguchi Ryan’s grandfather started the restaurant after being released from the Tule Lake internment camp in California.

“He left with three kids and came back with five,” Toguchi Ryan explained. “So he had a growing family to feed. So he went back to doing what he’s known, which is cooking.”

The original Highway Inn was located on Farrington Highway. Hence, how the business got part of its name.

“A lot of restaurants were naming themselves using the word inn,” Toguchi Ryan said. “So because they were on Farrington Highway, my grandfather, being the creative genius that he was, decided to name it Highway Inn.”

Over the years, Highway Inn has evolved and expanded.

There are now two main locations on Oahu–Waipahu and Kakaako. Plus, the family business has a cafe location at the Bishop Museum.

Toguchi Ryan took over the business about a decade ago when the economy was still reeling from the recession.

While times were tough then, Toguchi Ryan said this pandemic has been the most difficult financial time the business has had to endure. Revenue is down 50%-90%.

Long-term debt and rent relief is needed to survive, according to Toguchi Ryan.

“How long can we last? We’ve been around for 74 years. We’ve never gone through anything like this. But if we don’t get any relief for those things, then yes, we may be a casualty,” Toguchi Ryan admitted. “But for the most part, I’m confident, primarily because we’re doing everything that we can possibly do.”

Highway Inn has tried everything to keep business flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic from online ordering to take-out and a modified dine-in service.

The restaurant is now offering vacuum-sealed meals, so customers can order it, save it and enjoy it later.

“When you support a local business, whatever business that might be, we are keeping as much of our hard earned monies, our hard earned dollars here,” Toguchi Ryan said about how much she appreciates support from the local community. “There will come a time just like the financial crisis in 2008 and 2007. There will come a time when this too will pass.”

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