When the Covid-19 pandemic led to the state shutdown in March, restaurants and food establishments felt the effects immediately.
Monica K. Toguchi Ryan, owner of Highway Inn on O’ahu and Kristal Muhich, owner of Kauai Juice Co on Kauai, shared how they’ve kept their doors open and adapted new strategies for success.
Technology has been proven essential to both businesses. Kauai Juice Co developed a new website to ship its line of wholesale products off island. Highway Inn’s online ordering platform includes curbside pick-up, they created a proprietary delivery service, and an Amazon Alexa announces customer arrivals in the parking lot. The restaurant introduced the Highway Inn @ Home line which includes DOH certified ‘ohana size portions and vacuum-sealed meals, a direct response to the pandemic and the stay-at-home mandates. Most of the foods can be frozen for up to 6 months or, if refrigerated, eaten within 3-5 days of purchase. These packs are available in-store and can be shipped directly to neighbor islands via UPS at reasonable rates. 3rd generation owner Monica Toguchi Ryan says, “I believe online ordering and other uses of technology that allow customers a higher degree of convenience will continue well after the pandemic ends.”
Both businesses have discovered new efficiencies. Muhich says, “I wanted to make changes that would be long term and not just a Band-Aid.” While development of the wholesale side of her business, online ordering and shipping nationwide have required all the company’s cash flow and resources, Muhich remains focused on long term sustainability and keeping as many of her original staff on payroll as possible.
The sudden drop in tourism has affected sales at both establishments, but local customers have been loyal. Muhich says, “We have strong local clientele [who] are keeping all three Kauai Juice Co stores afloat. We are so grateful for all our customers.” A menu of healthy products that boost the immune system has attracted new customers too.
As people started working from home and office lunch sales decreased at Highway Inn, longtime customers have shown a preference for picking up their food rather than choosing delivery, providing a welcome opportunity to connect face-to-face. Employees now manage more channels of distribution: online orders, counter service, phone orders, curbside pick-up and delivery.
“Currently, guests can order take-out and eat it in our dine-in area in Kaka’ako, and in Waipahu, we’ve instituted limited counter-service which basically means guests order at the host stand, are served their meal, but have no table service.” The Bishop Museum cafe closed along with the museum on March 23rd and re-opened on June 26th with the proper social distancing measures.
Muhich says, “Overall women are excellent problem solvers in that they have high emotional intelligence, giving them the advantage to more accurately predict what is coming and to make smart decisions. However, I believe wholly that your team is what will help you survive through these times.” By surrounding herself with positive, smart, hard working people she has been able to survive. At Kauai Juice Co Muhich may make the final decisions, but she always consults with her husband and the company director on everything. She adds, “I believe being able to have open, mature, dialogue with people who have different viewpoints is what propels businesses forward, especially during these challenging times.”
Toguchi Ryan says, “Many women are mothers, and that’s an experience that teaches you very quickly that things are completely unpredictable and how to operate on that fine line that almost topples over into chaos; every day in this pandemic has been that kind of day! As a mom, you can’t just give up; you have to figure out a new game plan. I think women are also thrust into situations where they have to multitask and handle different roles simultaneously. A lot of women go into the workforce thinking their job will be one thing, and showing up and being assigned other tasks, or just taking them on because no one else will. Going through life, I think we often have to deal with adapting our expectations and figuring out how to make a situation viable where maybe we’re not equipped with the resources or training we thought we would have or get. That sort of sums up this whole situation, doesn’t it?”
Both women are optimistic about the future. “Business is always about problem solving,” Muhich says. “If it weren’t a pandemic this year it would have been a hurricane or something else. Hone in on your leadership skills, don’t get discouraged, think outside of the box, and surround yourself with positive people. Downsize in business and personal life if you need to; you’ll be surprised what you thought you couldn’t live without might actually be taking up a lot of mental and physical space. De-clutter your house, your business, your mind, and use this as an opportunity to try something new. Learn to let go so you and your business can become so much more than you originally even imagined.”
“[Women] usually handle more than our actual ‘job,’ even in ‘normal’ times,” Toguchi Ryan says. “The flip side to this is that we just keep taking things on and not realizing just how big the burden is. I’ve had to learn to meditate and take more frequent walks on the beach during this time to clear my head and manage my stress. I would encourage everyone to take care of their mental health. Do not underestimate the level of psychological stress and its effects on your relationships and physical health. This is an extraordinary time for everyone, but this too shall pass.”