This is a lament about my favorite local hangouts that have become tourist traps.
I am not saying that is good or bad. It’s just a fact of life when you live on an island where tourism drives the economy.
The Internet is responsible for some of the invasion of local places. We were once able to keep our hangouts secret, but now they are recommended by Facebook friends and highlighted on travel and food websites.
A businesswoman I know told me that old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising once brought her dozens of customers but today getting mentioned on the Internet brings her hundreds of clients. Others say thousands.
Author Francine Prose would call bemoaning the loss of local restaurants to tourists a first-world problem — a rich people’s problem.
Maybe so, but I feel like venting.
And my friend Carol Wilcox, who likes to vent, too, says it is no trivial matter when locals start getting mad at tourists for invading their places. Wilcox says “It erodes the aloha spirit.”
I no longer visit places with long lines of waiting tourists, including Eggs ‘n Things, Bogart’s on Monsarrat and Cafe Kaila in Market City.
I am happy the restaurants are doing well, but also sad that some of them are difficult to get into without waiting 45 minutes.
How do we locals know when one of “our” favorite haunts is doomed?
Wilcox explains, “You know a place has gone over the edge when you see buses in front dropping off tourists.”
Travelers arriving in tour buses long ago doomed the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Kapiolani Community College. The same goes for the hike to the summit of Diamond Head.
But now restaurants are crossing over, especially little local eateries specializing in breakfasts.
“You know a place has gone over the edge when you see buses in front dropping off tourists.”
Super chef Ed Kenney, the owner of Town Restaurant, says “for some reason Japan tourists like the big Hawaiian-American breakfasts.” Kenney says that’s interesting when you consider the traditional Japanese breakfast consists of light foods like pickled vegetables and rice and miso soup.
But Yumi Ozaki, a Honolulu public relations executive specializing in the Japan market, says it is easy to understand. “Japanese love anything and everything from Hawaii.”
Ozaki says Japanese customers have been pancake lovers for a long time, enjoying their own Japanese “hotcake,” pronounced “hotto keeki”, as a snack food.
Cafe Kaila, famous for its waffles and pancakes, has been off my eating list for at least a year. Tour buses pull up in front of the eatery at Market City in Kapahulu. Lines of customers wait patiently in front for 30 or 40 minutes for waffles covered with fresh strawberries and eggs Benedict.
Hats off to Kaila’s management for at least trying to appease waiting customers by serving them free samples of the cafe’s famous Belgian waffles and cups of iced water. But, still, it’s crazy. Who is going to wait in line for 45 minutes for a couple of apple pancakes? Not me.
Cafe Kaila is so popular with tourists that the company has opened a branch in Tokyo. Other Hawaii breakfast joints also opening outposts in Japan include Eggs ‘n Things, Cinnamon’s and Moke’s Bread and Breakfast, both of Kailua.
When I told Honolulu ad man Sean Morris I was mad about losing my old haunts, he responded in an email, “I think it is fascinating this this simple breakfast boom has in turn generated revenue streams for local mom-and-pop businesses just trying to make an honest living. And it creates bigger hopes for them for a franchise in Japan with all the bells and whistles of a licensing agreement.”
True, but I want to turn back the clock and enjoy long, relaxing Saturday breakfasts in my former hangouts.
Eggs n’ Things used to be a favorite place for many local residents when it was located at the far end of Kalakaua near the McCully Street Bridge.
Says marketing specialist Melissa Chang: “Remember the old days when it was the place for locals to go after a night of clubbing? Now their clientele is 10 percent local, 20 percent mainland, and 70 percent Japanese.”
I stood in line recently with mostly Japanese tourists for more than 30 minutes at Eggs ‘n Things at its Waikiki location at 2464 Kalakaua Ave. in the hopes of enjoying the fabulous pancakes of my youth, which were once served with a delicious homemade orange zest syrup. But forget it. The once moist pancakes are now dry and are served on paper plates with plastic utensils. The fabulous orange zest syrup is gone. Plus, you have to pay a lot of money at any Eggs n’ Things restaurant.
My friend Jackie Kido says: “With the tourists, the prices at Eggs n’ Things Ala Moana have gone way up. With tip, almost $40 breakfast for two.”
Bogart’s on Monsarrat used to be a local favorite for its wonderful breakfasts and acai bowls. Not anymore. Waits can exceed 30 minutes just to get up to the counter to order and then you must wait again for the food to come to your table — that’s if you can get a table.
Former customer Molly Wilkinson sighs, “Longing for an acai bowl at Bogart’s, but not worth the wait.”
Sweet E’s, a cafe specializing in breakfast and lunch at Kilohana Square in Kapahulu seems to have avoided the tourist mobs with the majority of its customers remaining local residents or tourists who come one and two at a time in rental cars.
Owner Ethel Kim Matthews says she hasn’t seen tour buses pulling up. “We haven’t come to that yet.”
Sweet E’s is difficult for tourists to find and has limited seating.
Matthews’ brother Marshall Kim says, “At the end of the day, we would rather have local customers because they will be here forever.”
Yet, I am just waiting for Sweet E’s to fall.
Other favorite neighborhood restaurants my friends say they have abandoned include Morning Glass in Manoa, famous for its macaroni and cheese pancakes. And Moena Café in the Koko Marina Shopping Center, now crowded with mainland tourists who stop by on their way back from the Koko Crater hike or Hanauma Bay, lining up to wait for the French press coffee and massive banana Chantilly pancakes.
And it isn’t just restaurants that have fallen. Bakeries, too. Libby Antone of Kapahulu says she used to go to Leonard’s in Kapahulu to buy her doctor a box of malasadas, but she hardly ever does now because of the long lines of tourists. “It is good for Leonard’s business but annoying,” says Antone.
Town Restaurant in Kaimuki should have been mobbed by tourists long ago but thankfully it still is not.
I asked owner and chef Kenney why Town has remained relatively tourist free. Kenney says, “I don’t know. Maybe because the restaurant was created intentionally for local repeat clients.”
He says food fanciers from the mainland make up about 10 to 15 percent of his business each night. He says they are the kind of people who make their restaurant reservations first and then reserve their air flights. But he hasn’t seen tour buses or large groups from Asia. He has one Japanese-speaking server for the few Japanese customers who come for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
“I hope we don’t get infiltrated by tourists. I love seeing the same people all the time,” said Kenney.