Ala Moana Center wants to sell property belonging to its estranged tenant, Shirokiya, and is asking a state court to declare that the food court and restaurant operator has abandoned its belongings after failed attempts at reconciliation.

The mall’s request to the First Circuit Court is the latest development in a legal saga between the company that owns Ala Moana and Shirokiya, which last year shuttered its doors in Hawaii, most likely for good.

Ala Moana Anchor Acquisitions LLC and Shirokiya Inc. have been embroiled in a bitter legal battle that began earlier this year when the mall sued Shirokiya for back rent. Shirokiya, which operated the Japan Village Walk and adjacent Vintage Cave Cafe, countersued. It claimed that Ala Moana hindered its potential when it moved to its current location on the ground floor, that Covid-19 orders prevented it from reopening and that Ala Moana illegally terminated its leases last year.

Ala Moana Shopping Center Vintage Cave Cafe.
Ala Moana wants to sell property stored in Shirokiya’s Japan Village Walk and Vintage Cave Cafe. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The mall tried to auction equipment belonging to Shirokiya and also wanted to sell $200,000 worth of wine belonging to Vintage Cave Club members stored in the restaurant. Ala Moana removed the auction listings shortly after a state judge in July ordered the mall to make its premises available for Vintage Cave Club members to take their wine by Aug. 15.

The judge also ordered Shirokiya, Ala Moana and their lawyers to enter dispute resolution to hash out their differences. Efforts to reconcile appear to have failed.

In a motion filed Nov. 5, Ala Moana’s legal team asked Judge Dean Ochiai to declare that property left at Shirokiya after a yet-to-be-determined deadline be considered abandoned so that the mall can auction those items to help recoup a portion of back rent.

The court record does not detail how much of Shirokiya’s “personal property” is still left at Ala Moana.

Update: Vintage Cave Club members were able to remove all of their wine, according to a written statement sent Friday morning from Ala Moana’s attorney, Derek Kobayashi.

Kobayashi said the point of this new court motion is to confirm that the removal deadline of Aug. 15 has passed.

Attorneys for Shirokiya did not return phone calls seeking comment, and representatives for the Vintage Cave Club also did not respond to Civil Beat’s questions.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Jan. 19.

Lawyers for the shopping center accuse Shirokiya of “obstructing Ala Moana’s good faith efforts to mitigate its damages by ignoring the Court’s order and not removing its personal property from the premises or allowing Ala Moana to sell or otherwise dispose of it.”

Storing Shirokiya’s property is costing the mall $50,000 per month in utility expenses. Ala Moana says it has already signed a lease with a new tenant to take over the space occupied by Vintage Cave, but the new tenant can’t move in because of the stored property, according to the filing.

“Shirokiya has been given many months and ample notice and opportunity to remove its remaining personal property from the Premises. Ala Moana’s efforts to resolve this issue have been rebuffed by Shirokiya for no good reason,” Ala Moana’s filing says.

Ochiai instructed Ala Moana and Shirokiya to figure out a way to offset Ala Moana’s expenses by agreeing on a process to remove all of Shirokiya’s property.

In a Sept. 28 letter, Ala Moana’s attorneys proposed a timeline in which Shirokiya would remove all its property from three mall spaces by Oct. 22.

Shirokiya, through its attorneys, rejected that offer in an Oct. 1 letter. The lawyers maintain that Ala Moana illegally locked Shirokiya out of its three stores last year. They contend it’s the mall’s own fault it’s stuck paying utilities for those vacant stores.

Shirokiya attorneys proposed storing some of Shirokiya’s stuff in a smaller venue, like the Vintage Cave Club, to help reduce the utility costs.

Ala Moana attorneys didn’t take to that idea.

“Frankly, it’s untenable,” attorneys Derek Kobayashi and Regan Iwao wrote in a Oct. 7 letter, adding that relocating all the property would be “counterproductive” since the mall is trying to lease out the stores to new tenants.

Ala Moana Shopping Center Shirokiya Japan Village Walk.
Ala Moana and Shirokiya have been unable to resolve a dispute over stored property. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

On top of that, all the stored property won’t fit in the Vintage Cave. Ala Moana would need to pay $60,000 to clean and disconnect Shirokiya’s equipment and another $20,000 per month to rent 15 storage containers to hold all of that equipment.

“If Shirokiya contends that the remaining property is theirs, it is not Ala Moana’s obligation to move it and store it,” Kobayashi and Iwao wrote.

Attorneys then gave Shirokiya an Oct. 15 deadline.

Shirokiya rejected that offer too. Attorney David Minkin, who represents Shirokiya, wrote that Ala Moana has placed the parties in a “legal quagmire.” He recommended that the attorneys wait until their court-ordered mediation to resolve their differences and find a way to move forward.

But that never happened. Shirokiya and Ala Moana participated in mediation sessions on Nov. 1 and 2 but weren’t able to reach a solution or decide what to do with Shirokiya’s property, court records show.

This legal battle over stored property is playing out against the backdrop of a larger dispute between Shirokiya and Ala Moana. The shopping center’s owners are seeking more than $8 million in back rent from Shirokiya, which in turn wants the mall to pay out $110 million in damages.

Shirokiya first opened at Ala Moana in 1959. The company opened the Japan Village Walk in 2016 as part of the mall’s Ewa wing expansion. It moved the Vintage Cave restaurant to a nearby location that year too.

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