Bankruptcy hits
old-line isle eateries

Orson's and Chinese Chuck Wagon close,
and 60 workers lose jobs

By Russ Lynch

Pacific Food Services Inc., one of Hawaii's oldest restaurant businesses, has filed for bankruptcy protection and closed two of its restaurants, Orson's Seafood Restaurant at Ward Warehouse and Chinese Chuck Wagon at Ward Farmers Market.

Three other Pacific Food Services restaurants remain open under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows a business to keep operating while its attempts to reorganize. They are the Chowder House at Ward Warehouse, Fishmonger's Wife at Ala Moana Center and Byron's Drive Inn near Honolulu Airport.

The company listed debts of $1.77 million, mostly owed to wholesale suppliers of foods and beverages, and assets of $1 million. About 60 employees in the two closed restaurants have lost their jobs.

The restaurants are descendents of eateries opened by Andy Wong, who bought Leon's in Kailua in the early 1950s and went on to open a string of restaurants, ranging from drive-ins to fine-dining houses. Wong died in 1985.

Several of the restaurants are now in separate companies only part-owned by the Wongs and are not affected by the bankruptcy.

One is Byron II at the Ala Moana Center. Andy Wong's widow Marian and their daughter Lori Wong together own only 20 percent of Sea Breeze Ltd., which owns Byron II and Andy's Drive Inn in Kailua, said majority owner Ben Lum.

Lum said today those businesses are fully operating and are not connected with Pacific Food Services' bankruptcy. He said Byron II has stopped honoring gift certificates issued by what Lori Wong was calling the Wong family of restaurants because the restaurant isn't getting paid for the meals.

Lori Wong, president of Pacific Food Services, said in a news statement that Pacific Food will continue to honor gift certificates. She was not available for comment today.

Another Wong restaurant, Andrew's, closed in the Ward Center last year but was scheduled to reopen today in a new location, the Executive Centre at Bishop and Hotel Streets. That is part of yet another company spun off from the Wong family, Leon's at Kailua Ltd.

Pacific Food Services said it will seek bankruptcy court permission to pay all of its essential operating obligations, including wages owed to employees.

The company was incorporated in 1964. Each operated under its own name and style. Byron's and Orson's were named after Wong's sons.

Pacific Food Services is the latest casualty in the often shaky restaurant business which is known for its high failure rate.

Another major restaurant business, Trans/Pacific Rest-aurants, filed for Chapter 11 protection a year ago, but managed to keep most of its restaurants, including the Yum Yum Tree and Jolly Roger operations, operating until buyers were found earlier this year.

Bankruptcy filings are at a record level as businesses and individuals find themselves unable to wait for a recovery in Hawaii's depressed economy.

Fifteen businesses have filed under Chapter 11 in the first quarter of this year in Hawaii. Overall bankruptcies, including personal and business, were up 66.5 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period last year.

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