By Russ Lynch
The Columbia Inn on Kapiolani Boulevard, a popular hangout for politicians, sports fans, bureaucrats and, naturally, journalists from the newspapers next door, will close its doors for good in early January.
The 22,000-square-foot property has been acquired, for an undisclosed price, by Servco Pacific Inc., a locally owned automobile, finance and insurance business.
Servco plans to knock down the restaurant but is not yet ready to disclose what it will do with the site, across the street from its Lexus dealership. It won't continue as a restaurant or bar, however.
"Servco is not in the restaurant business," said the buyer's senior vice president, Carol Lam.
"It's been part of this Hawaii community for a very long time," Lam said. She said the company will use it in the best way it can to enhance Servco's operations and profits.
The 62 Columbia Inn employees were notified yesterday that their jobs will be gone in the first week in January.
"Business has never been better. Sales have never been higher," said Terry Oshima, president of Kyotaru U.S.A., the Hawaii arm of Japan-headquartered Kyotaru Co., which bought the restaurant in 1986.
Kyotaru, which also owns the former Columbia Inn at Waimalu, now a Kyotaru Japanese restaurant, as well as Kyotaru in Waikiki and the Columbia Inn in Kaimuki, has financial troubles at home.
The company was ordered by a bankruptcy court to sell off its U.S. assets and Columbia Inn Kapiolani was the first to go.
"We approached a number of potential buyers," Oshima said, including Servco, and Servco decided to buy.
The restaurant will close "on or about Jan. 5," Oshima said, and the plant-closing notice required by state law has been mailed to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
Businesses with 50 or more employees are not allowed to close because of a sale until 60 days after that notice is received. The department said it received the notice today.
The property fits well with Servco's operations, Lam said. Servco has a major automobile service center, mostly for its Toyota brand, a block away on South Street.
"Earlier this year, Kyotaru approached Servco," Lam said. After a close look at the property and its possible uses, Servco decided to buy it, she said.
"We will be closing the restaurant and Servco is looking at possible uses for the property," Lam said.
Kyotaru's Oshima said there is nothing to report yet about the fate of the company's other local restaurants.
Brothers Fred "Tosh" Kaneshiro and Frank Gentaro Kaneshiro, both now deceased, founded the Columbia Inn business with a restaurant they opened on Beretania Street in 1941. They moved in 1964 to the 645 Kapiolani location, which had been a Times Grill restaurant since 1939.
For a long time the "Top of da Boulevard" restaurant was open 24 hours a day, and it was popular with Waikiki entertainers who would stop for a bowl of saimin after their gigs. U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye would stop in for oxtail stew when he was in town, or have aides pick some up and bring it to Washington.
Under Kyotaru's management, hours were trimmed and costs were controlled, but the staff, many of whom have been there for decades, stayed and the restaurant was as popular as ever.
Promoted by the Kaneshiro family as the Honolulu "home" of the Los Angeles Dodgers, it remains a popular sports bar.
The original opening date was a piece of history. The Kaneshiro family had planned to open the business at the Beretania location on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. Something happened that day that sent their plans awry, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Honolulu writer Sammy Amalu wrote that the restaurant did get opened late in the day but had to close because of an evening blackout and managed to score total opening-day revenues of just $18.