Restaurants see weekend boost from the state’s $500 card program

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Some restaurants said that they saw a boost in their sales last weekend by customers who used the Hawaii Restaurant Card to make their purchases.

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The state’s restaurant prepaid card comes with $500 for use at restaurants. People who receive unemployment insurance benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance are qualified for the extra cash. The program was a quick way to bring aid to struggling businesses in the state.

The founder of L&L Hawaiian Barbeque, Eddie Flores, said that they saw business increase this past weekend.

“Since the card was out Saturday, we saw some increase,” Flores said. “But on Sunday, we saw a big increase, about a 20% increase or so, so we really appreciate that. It really helped out business.”

The state mailed out 116,320 cards last week. By Monday morning, 42,800 cards were activated.

Restaurant 604’s Vice President of Marketing Devina Maples said they also saw more foot traffic this past weekend. The restaurant is located close to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. She said business has been slow ever since the decline of tourism.

“This was definitely a creative way to support both families in need and restaurants that are struggling right now,” Maples said. “We have a lot of friends in the industry, so we hear what they go through. we feel their pain.”

Casual dine-in concepts have also seen a boost from customers using the Hawaii Restaurant Card. Restaurateur Rick Nakashima said Ruby Tuesdays Hawaii and Gyu-Kaku saw at least a 15% increase in sales. He said their Rainbow Drive-in Kalihi remained stable.

Nakashima said, “I think, you know, for a person that’s been through a lot and now they have all of a sudden a $500 gift card, we are a nice segment to go to.” 

A survey published in September by the Hawaii Restaurant Association found that 62% of restaurant operators would close within six months without further federal aid.

Nakashima agrees.

He said, “We are going to need another government aid to get us out of this because what we’ve been doing is trying to negotiate with the landlords.”  

The state’s program does not cover all of the needs but for some restaurant owners, it is a start.

Flores said, “Now we are back again, so it really helped us a lot. This is the worst of times for many of us because I’ve been in the restaurant business for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

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