Creative Survival at Mark's Place, Lihu'e

Jan 1, 2021

Through the pandemic, the island of Kaua’i has charted its own path. First with night time curfews, an interisland travel quarantine was in effect on Kaua’i until earlier this week.  At the end of August, the Kaua'i Chamber of Commerce polled 129 local businesses. More than a third said they would go under if tourism is not back in 6 months. Still, HPR ‘s Noe Tanigawa reports, there is support for travel restrictions in a county with experience handling economic disaster. 

Ulu or breadfruit chips from the Mark's Place Instagram feed.
Credit Mark's Place

Recovering from Hurricanes Iwa in 1982, and Iniki in 1992, is still pretty fresh for a lot of Kauai people. More recently, there was the ‘08-‘09 recession, but by last year, 2019, Chef Mark Oyama, of Mark’s Place in Lihu’e, says the economy was pumping again. 

 

"Restaurants actually suffer when it's really good, because we can't get employees. It's hard to get workers at that time.” 

 

Oyama also runs Kaua’i’s largest catering company, Contemporary Flavors, and had a staff of more than fifty. 

 

“We had a lot of business, catering was booming. I do a lot of destination weddings so there's nothing now. If we did have a full service event where we service it, we end up making like plate lunches there. We gotta repack it and serve it because you can't do a buffet anymore."

 

"I've done weddings where the host charters a flight and fly everybody down and there's 200 people over here. But for me, I rather be safe and people not he island be safe than trying to get back to where we were."

 

Oyama has managed to maintain jobs and healthcare for his workers through the pandemic.

 

"We're all trying to hang on, we're not making money right now. We had to cut some hours and they understood that. I'm lucky, I've got great employees and they're really working hard. Like my pastry chef, she's amazing she's doing all kind of things to bring business in." 

 

For example, Mark's Place had to cut off requests for their new Korean cream cheese garlic rolls, and were only able to reopen online orders this week. 

"Yeah we're trying to do what we can. Right now you gotta do something where you think outside the box, it's a little bit different now. You can't be status quo right now."

 

Mark’s Place has reopened for outdoor dining, take-out and delivery. They post daily and weekly specials on Facebook and Instagram. 

 

"We had hurricanes before and it brought the community back together. To be honest with you, I rather have a hurricane than this."

 

"Like when we had the hurricane, the whole neighborhood got together, we had dinner together every night, we cooked together, we shared all our refrigerators and freezers together because we had use em up. We had get togethers at our houses every night for dinner and got to know each other and helped repair everybody's houses. That was really nice, that time."

 

"This time here, you fish, you want to share some fish and stuff, but then you drop off and stay away from everybody. So it's not the same."

 

Oyama is an avid fisherman, this week’s specials featured fresh caught ehu, and his red wine short ribs  with mushroom ragout. He’s got an ube flan, fresh ulu chips, and bestsellers like beef stew and Korean fried chicken are sold by the pound for families. Oyama says, it’s creative survival mode heading into 2021.