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Amid mounting economic pressures, another iconic Hawaii restaurant calls it quits

Shirley Ho has watched her customers grow up and grow old within the walls of Tasty Chop Suey on Gulick Avenue.

But on June 25, the restaurant will close its doors.

The restaurant’s lease is expiring and Ho, the owner, does not plan to renew it ― at least not now.

Tasty Chop Suey first opened in 1956, cycling through five owners over the years.

Ho has been working there since 1982.

After more than 40 years of starting work at Tasty Chop Suey, Ho will look for work when it closes.

“I don’t really want it to close but I have no choice,” Ho said.

Ho cited the lease expiring, difficulty finding workers, and not wanting to sign another contract as the reasons behind the closure.

Sheryl Masuoka, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, said that Ho’s concerns echo what other restauranteurs are grappling with across the state.

The Hawaii Restaurant Association represents 4,800 restaurants across the state as well as food suppliers to ensure a “favorable environment” in the food industry.

Masuoka said that restaurants are impacted by rising costs of fuel, food, utilities, and a shortage of employees, complicating the already razor-thin margins seen in the industry.

This combination forces some restaurants to close.

“We know that as leases come up, restauranteurs are having to make a decision: Do I extend for another 10 years knowing that there’s rising costs all over and will the employees come back?” Masuoka said.

Hawaii has experienced an employee shortage since the pandemic, hitting restaurants like Tasty Chop Suey hard.

Eugene Tian, the state’s chief economist, has said the state’s worker shortage is improving. But he anticipates the situation won’t fully get back to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.

In the meantime, communities continue to lose beloved restaurants.

“The community knows that our restaurants is really our culture,” Masuoka said.

Earlier this year, Aiea Chop Suey closed its doors not because of money, but because the owner was ready to retire.

When older generations are ready to retire, Masuoka said that younger generations do not want to take over their parent’s and grandparents’ businesses.

She said younger generations do not follow in their elder’s footsteps because they see their parents and grandparents work “too hard” and they want to go to college.

While Masuoka expects more iconic restaurants to go down, she is optimistic that this summer’s tourism, Father’s Day, and graduation parties will bring sales to local restaurants.

Masuoka is also asking patrons to support local restaurants.

“Please support your local community restaurants because like this restaurant that’s closing, we want to see our restaurants survive, it’s part of our culture,” Masuoka said.

Karen Meheula drove from Kailua to Kalihi to try Tasty Chop Suey after she read that the restaurant was closing.

It was her first time at the eatery ― and wishes it was not her last.

Tasty Shop Suey and restaurants like it, she said, “bring people together to have a meal together. That’s important, being together and having something really good to eat.”

Source: Hawaii News Now