Several Hawaii breweries disagree with liquor commission shutting them down

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Under Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s order issued at the end of July, he ordered the shut down of all bars for at least three weeks.

On July 31, all bars across Oahu were ordered to shut down.

[Hawaii news on the go–LISTEN to KHON 2GO weekday mornings at 7:30 a.m.]

On Saturday, Aug. 8, the Honolulu Liquor Commission cited and closed 10 establishments; including: Aloha Beer Company, Wakiki Brewing Company, Di’s Karaoke, Hibiscus Club, 8 Fat Fat 8, Aqua Lounge, Club Blue Star, Club Wave, Emerald City and Club Bonita.

Only Aloha Beer Company and Waikiki Brewing Company will be able to re-open after the mandatory 24-hour closure, but only for retail/off-premises consumption sales. An official with the Honolulu Liquor Commission clarified that there was to be no on-premises consumption.

The city said in a press release that Saturday evening was the Honolulu Liquor Commission’s first enforcement actions taken under the Mayor’s Emergency Order 2020-23. There were a number of other locations observed open, the city said. However, due to the time it took to take action at each location, investigators were unable to reach them before they closed at 10 p.m.

An official with the Honolulu Liquor Commission said that investigators made their determination based on the conduct of the business observed.

Waikiki Brewing Company and Aloha Beer Company said they were surprised when liquor commission investigators arrived Saturday night because they consider themselves to be more of a restaurant than a bar.

The brewmaster at Waikiki Brewing Company said Mayor Caldwell’s order is confusing, especially for breweries.

The order defines a restaurant as:

(1) It is a place which is regularly and in a bona fide manner used and kept open for the serving of meals to patrons for compensation and which has suitable kitchen facilities connected therewith, containing the necessary equipment and supplies for cooking an assortment of foods which may be required for ordinary meals.

(2)  At least thirty percent (30%) of the establishment’s gross revenue must derive from the sale of foods.

(3)  It is able to and does operate under the conditions/restrictions/requirements set forth in Section 12, entitled “restaurants,” in Exhibit A of the current order. (see below)

“Having a kitchen or high enough food sales does not in and upon itself deem a premises a restaurant,” wrote an official with the Honolulu Liquor Commission.

For restaurants operating under this section while holding a liquor license issued by the Liquor Commission of the City and County of Honolulu, State of Hawaii, (including Class 2, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18 liquor licenses), the following restrictions and penalties also apply: Hours for on-premises consumption. Licensees (operating restaurants under this section) shall cease the sale, service, and consumption of liquor at or before 10 p.m. The start time for the sale, service, and consumption of liquor shall remain the same, based upon the class of license.

Bar definitions also define breweries as bars.

The brewmaster said breweries hold a Class 14 license because they have to have one in order to make their own beer, or else they would have a Class 2 restaurant license.

“At the point, we were shut down last night, we were 51.5% food sales on the day,” explained Waikiki Brewing brewmaster Joe Lorenzen. “We’re a sit-down restaurant, we just need to have that brewpub class license or else were unable to brew our beer there.”

Since restaurants were able to re-open for dine in services he said his establishment has followed all the new necessary rules including temperature checks of employees, spacing out seats, social distancing, constant cleaning and requiring all customers to wear a mask inside the brewery and to the bathroom.

“They had no interest in hearing from us in fact how we are in compliance with the order, and we’re doing all the right things we could possibly do,” Lorenzen said.

“We go above and beyond with health and safety and we care very much about our staff, the community, and our customers, we just want to be able to conduct business and now I’m going to have to lay off 15 people,” he explained.  

He said most breweries have been operating as restaurants for years and he said the commission will probably target other breweries in the coming days.

“It’s a shame if it’s based on the number associated with the number on your liquor license and not how you do business and the measures you take to keep people safe,” he said.

He said he’d like more transparency and clarity from the liquor commission on the restaurant definition when it comes to breweries.

He said he hopes they’ll be able to continue to serve food because only conducting take-out food was difficult.

Cindy Goldstein, Hawaiian Craft Brewers Guild executive director, said breweries, tap bars etc. who are in compliance should be allowed to remain open.

“We would not want to see small local businesses that are locally owned and who want to be part of the solution not being able to remain open, and continue to offer employment,” she explained.

She said breweries offer a different experience and atmosphere than bars do.

“It did take the craft beer bars, the brew pubs, and tap rooms by surprise to be treated as bars because it’s a different atmosphere,” she said.

She said being able to sell their beer to-go for the next two weeks won’t sustain their business.

“That isn’t enough to keep people employed it isn’t a sustainably business model to not have food as part of their service.”

Latest Stories on KHON2

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories