Hardworking Hawaii: Helena’s Hawaiian Food in business nearly 75 years ramps up take-out to survive

Hardworking Hawaii

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Many long-time local businesses that relied on face-to-face transactions have had to adjust dramatically to survive the pandemic.

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For example, Helena’s Hawaiian Food has been depending on phone and online orders to bring in most of its business.

Helena’s Hawaiian Food first opened on Oahu in 1946.

“My grandmother Helena was like a small, tiny little five foot [tall] Chinese lady, but she was a tiger,” Craig Katsuyoshi, the current owner, said about his grandmother who started the business. “Back then, women didn’t really take on businesses, but she took it on, and it was her love. She loved to do it.”

Over the years, the restaurant became a popular local spot, but when the internet took off, so did Helena’s.

“The advent of the internet and GPS and the foodies, and then all of a sudden, we started to incorporate more tourists into the business,”‘ Katsuyoshi said.

Meanwhile, locals like Dino Alvarez have been going to Helena’s for decades. Alvarez tries to get his fix every Friday.

“I’m always here giving them business,” Alvarez said. “I think I might have gained about 50 pounds at least all those years.”

Katsuyoshi said it is loyal customers like Alvarez that have kept them open throughout the pandemic.

“The locals are the ones that initially made this restaurant what it is and they are the ones who carried us through the hard times when there were no tourists,” Katusyoshi said.

From spreading out tables to relying heavily on phone and online orders, Katsuyoshi said COVID-19 has been a difficult time.

“For me, there is no plan B,” he said. “So I’m going to make this thing work. The pandemic, it has definitely affected business adversely in the sense that I had to layoff a few people and I had to downsize a little bit,” he explained.

Even though his grandmother may no longer be alive, it’s been her lessons that have led Katsuyoshi through the pandemic.

“I used to always wonder like, she’s always feeding everybody, you know, all the delivery guys. I [was] like, ‘Why are you feeding those guys? You know they are supposed to be working for us,'” Katsuyoshi said remembering his conversation with his grandmother. “She said, ‘Never mind, you don’t worry about it,’ and now I understand why.”

Katsuyoshi made sure to pay his employees even when the restaurant was closed entirely from March to July.

Alvarez said he hopes more locals will try his favorite spot.

“We local people need to support each other and we have to patronize local businesses,” Alvarez stated.

Katsuyoshi just plans on surviving for his family and for his grandmother.

“If it was just about the money, I couldn’t do it. It’s about, you know, continuing the legacy of my grandmother and serving the community is essentially what we do,” Katsuyoshi said.

Helena’s Hawaiian Food is located at 1240 N. School St and it is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7:30pm.

To order online, click here.

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