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Rock & Brews Paia closes doors for good

Restaurant officials cite lack of tourism, other pandemic woes

Alice in Hulaland owner Stanton Cohen carries a poster he purchased from the stuttered Rock & Brews on Tuesday morning. He said he planned to mount it and other pieces he bought on the ceiling of his store. He said business is tough during a global pandemic. “It’s like starting over,” he said. “You do 20 percent of what you were doing before. I feel sorry for the stores that are closing.” The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Citing high costs and little hope for tourism traffic anytime soon, Rock & Brews Paia decided to close its doors permanently, company officials said Tuesday.

This latest news highlights the pandemic’s sweeping impact on Maui’s tourism-reliant economy, especially in the tightknit north shore town that’s typically bustling with people.

Several Paia businesses have closed for good, including Sea La Vie and Sailboards Maui. Others are still shuttered and a handful have reopened to far fewer customers.

“I’m sad to see any business going out due to coronavirus,” said Stanton Cohen, owner of Alice in Hulaland, a 20-year-old retail shop that reopened last month at its spot a few doors from Rock & Brews. “I’ve lived here since ’74, and I feel bad for all the stores.”

Rock & Brews CEO Adam Goldberg said Tuesday that the call to close for good last week wasn’t an easy one.

Rock & Brews on Hana Highway in Paia is closed for business Tuesday morning.

“Unfortunately, due to COVID that’s affecting all of us in many different ways, we had no choice,” Goldberg told The Maui News. “We tried to drag it out as long as we can to get a good understanding of what we think will happen with tourism. But we just don’t see having the customer base to support our rents and our cost.”

Headquartered in Los Angeles, Rock & Brews has 21 company-owned U.S. restaurants that serve American comfort food and craft beer. The rock-themed restaurant chain was co-founded by rock legends Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of KISS. The Paia restaurant was the only Rock & Brews in Hawaii.

Construction on the Paia facility began in 2012, and the restaurant opened in 2014, according to Mark Cameron, Rock & Brews Paia operating partner.

Cameron, a Haiku resident, said the restaurant had been doing well, especially in the early part of this year.

Once the pandemic hit and nonessential businesses were shut down in March, he began talking with his Mainland partners about the economic impact of the virus on the Paia restaurant.

“We did some projections, and I talked with a lot of restaurant people here, and the size of our building requires visitors. We can’t make it without a good amount of visitors,” Cameron said.

Despite county and state rules that allowed Maui County restaurants to resume business in June, Cameron said that he didn’t want to reopen Rock & Brews Paia when the rest of the town was “pretty much boarded up.”

“And a lot of the stores are still not open,” he said.

Goldberg said the biggest factor in the decision to close is not having a customer base for sales. Considering what’s happening in California and other places on the Mainland, he said the company has been “modeling out” what it takes to survive. For Paia, locals alone cannot support the restaurant, he said.

“If we knew that people were going to travel here tomorrow, then certainly that would make a difference for us,” he said. “Tourism is what’s missing. However, with what’s going on in the state of California right now, COVID is still running strong.”

The Paia restaurant and its landlord are seeking buyers, Goldberg said. He touted the building’s framework, kitchen, bar area and other features. He added that the buyer would not have to keep the facility as a Rock & Brews.

“If there was someone interested in buying it, I think they could get a very good deal on it,” he said.

Cameron said the most painful part of the decision to shut down comes when he thinks about his staff.

“The worst part for me is the 35 people who had become a family,” he said. “We were doing wonderfully. And to see them, all of a sudden with no notice, basically their careers ended just like that — that part is painful.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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