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Not all Maui dine-in eateries open Monday

Some restaurants have reason to wait

Junko (left) and Jerry Sugimura of Upcountry dine in at Ramen-Ya at Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center on Monday morning. Monday was the first day that dine-in services could resume at restaurants. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

KAHULUI — Even as restaurants were allowed to reopen for dine-in services Monday, not all chose to do so, citing issues with complying with social distancing orders, scheduling and feasibility as reasons to stay shuttered for a little while longer.

At Sam Sato’s, manager Kirk Toma, whose family owns the iconic Wailuku eatery, said he probably will reopen next week, saying it was too soon for him to put out schedules to increase staff this week. He noted that some workers are fearful of interacting with so many people again.

Toma also was assessing the feasibility of going from 13 tables and counter-space seating to just six tables to allow for adequate social distancing.

Fortunately, the takeout portion of the business has been steady, making up for the lost dine-in service, he said. At the beginning of the pandemic in late March, “it was scary,” Toma said, noting that people even shied away from takeout food.

Baked goods sales are down, even for their famous manju. Toma said many buyers of those sweet treats come from other Neighbor Islands and take them home with them as omiyage or gifts. Neighbor Island travel has been limited due to the 14-day quarantine imposed by Gov. David Ige on April 1.

But Toma said he expects business to pick up as the state lifts the quarantine, which Ige announced Monday would occur June 16.

In Kahului, Restaurant Matsu also did not reopen Monday, citing concerns about the virus and customer comfort levels with eating out.

“I’m not, I don’t trust it,” manager Anne Matsumoto said referring to the lifting of dine-in prohibitions.

Matsumoto said she didn’t know when her family-owned Japanese restaurant would reopen. Social distancing and ensuring everyone has a mask will be difficult to manage and control, she said.

Matsumoto said she herself is not comfortable with dining out. It will be difficult for restaurants to sanitize everything that their customers touch, especially if it is busy.

In addition, some of her customers stay for three hours so having dine-in reservations will not be feasible for her restaurant.

Currently, Restaurant Matsu is offering takeout orders with workers providing curbside pickup to phone-order customers. Matsumoto said she and her customers have gotten used to the new arrangement. She also noted that not all customers wear masks during pickup.

“Right now, we have a good steady flow going,” she said Monday afternoon.

Her restaurant has eight tables for seating; to meet social distancing rules she estimated probably having to remove half of the seating.

According to guidelines issued by Maui County, customers must wear a mask when entering, moving about and leaving the restaurant. They may remove masks while eating. Also tables must be arranged to allow at least 6 feet of distancing.

Tables and chairs must be fully sanitized after each party leaves and silverware, flatware, glasses, condiments and other tabletop items must not be left on an unoccupied table.

Disposable plates and utensils should be used when possible, and disposable menus or a menu board should be available. Reusable menus must be sanitized after each use.

If the restaurant accepts reservations, people must wait in their vehicles until they are called to come in. Congregating in waiting areas is not allowed.

A check of other Central Maui eateries, Da Kitchen in Kahului, Poi By the Pound and McDonald’s along Puunene Avenue, all still were not offering dine-in services Monday morning.

Sheik’s Restaurant had a sign on its door saying it would open next Monday.

But at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center on Monday morning, Ramen-Ya had diners seated at four tables all spaced apart.

“First day,” said manager Kitty Wu, as she surveyed the small dining area. “Every other table, not that much people. Cannot help.”

Wu estimated, as she surveyed the restaurant, that she could probably accommodate two more tables of guests for a total of six tables.

Normally, patrons Junko and Jerry Sugimura of Upcountry would do takeout at Ramen-Ya because of long lines to get in. But on Monday after 10:30 a.m., they were able to find seats.

“I’m glad to be out of the house. I’m glad they are open,” Junko Sugimura said as she finished her combination plate.

She and her husband said they were not afraid of dining out and risk catching the virus.

Jerry Sugimura was finishing his cold ramen dish.

“He’s getting tired of my cooking,” Junko Sugimura said with a laugh.

Down at the other end of the mall, dine-in service was less busy at Fernando’s Mexican Grill, where at around 1 p.m. Monday, there were only four dine-in guests.

“We opened this morning, but it’s very, very, slow,” said owner Fernando Cardona.

He said that was OK because the restaurant needed time to ramp up operations after being closed for two months.

“It’s a start,” he said.

Cardona said he probably needs to place banners in front of his restaurant to announce the reopening because dine-in patrons told him they didn’t know the restaurant was open.

Cardona also has a Fernando’s at the Maui Marketplace food court, which has been open for takeout during the pandemic.

“They have been steady over there,” he said.

But Cardona said he doesn’t think things will be the same economically for another year or so. Cardona and his wife, Kristy, own both eateries.

A look inside the Ka’ahumanu Center restaurant before it opened Monday showed various tables ready for seating while other tables had their chairs positioned so no one can sit on them. Cardona said the Ka’ahumanu location now has a wood-stone oven and is now firing up pizzas.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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