Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Yum Yum Tree will permanently close its last restaurant in Hawaii on Sunday. The Ward Centre location was pictured yesterday.

Yum Yum

Hawaii is losing its last Yum Yum
Tree restaurant, which has been
at Ward Centre for 23 years

Hawaii's last Yum Yum Tree restaurant, at Ward Centre, will close its doors for good on Sunday, spelling an end to the former chain's 23-year run.

It was the first Yum Yum Tree in the state and it has gone through good times, a former owner's bankruptcy and countless plates of steak and eggs.

"We lost our lease," said Doug Whitehurst, vice president of operations for parent company TP Acquisitions Inc.

"It wasn't an internal situation, it was an external situation. When they say 'you have to go,' well, guess what, you have to go."

The closure will leave 42 employees without work, some of whom were displaced when the Islander Coffee House, a sister restaurant on Lewers Street in Waikiki, closed in January. The coffee house was among the businesses shuttered to make way for Outrigger's Beach Walk redevelopment project, Whitehurst said.

Whitehurst began telling employees the latest bad news on Tuesday, but he said he is confident they will find work quickly. "A lot of new eateries are coming up and they're very good at what they do," he said.

The Web site for Victoria Ward Centers indicates the Yum Yum Tree space became available for lease in spring of 2003.

Chicago-based real estate investment trust General Growth Properties Inc., which owns Victoria Ward as well as Ala Moana Center, would not discuss lease specifics.

"Their last day is Sunday and all we can do is wish them well, and we'll miss them," said Marketing Director Diane Bruce.

"We can't say what's going to go in there, but we'll redevelop it and make it more exciting," she said.

The company is expanding Victoria Ward's street-front shops and restaurants. "At the corner of Ward and Auahi, we have a brand-new two-story retail building being constructed right now -- and shops and restaurants, opening right before the holidays," she said.

Yum Yum Tree began serving customers at Ward Centre in 1982, mere months after the retail and restaurant complex itself opened.

Despite the homey Americana food and family restaurant ambiance, it was also a popular pau-hana stop, especially if Ward Centre neighbors Ryan's Bar and Grill or Monterey Bay Canners were too busy.

"At one point it was very profitable," Whitehurst said. "Lately, it holds its own."

More recently, breakfast and lunch became its busiest meal times, since competition for the dinner crowd along the Auahi Street corridor has increased.

Victoria Ward Ltd.'s former chief executive, Mitch D'Olier, said he had fond memories of the restaurant and its staff, in spite of its business struggles.

"They had some wonderful employees that I used to see at breakfast time -- that made Yum Yum Tree a fun place for me."

Political and business glitterati would also gather there, D'Olier said. "It was amazing who all would be there in the morning."

Whitehurst has been with TP Acquisitions, owned by Roger Mercier, since the company bought 10 restaurants from the bankrupt Trans/Pacific Restaurants Inc. in 1997, including three Yum Yum Tree restaurants, four Jolly Roger restaurants, two Islander Coffee Shops in Waikiki and a Monterey Bay Canners restaurant.

Whitehurst had worked at Monterey Bay Canners at Ward Centre, then moved to the Pearlridge location then joined Mercier's company after Trans/Pacific filed bankruptcy.

There will be no last hurrah or promotion for the closing of the family restaurant, also in keeping with its lease. It will fold up at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Menu items will also quietly go away, as the restaurant exhausts its supplies, "but we'll still have steak and eggs for $4.99. We'll probably run that until the end," Whitehurst said.

He had no complaints about his landlords, current or past.

"Victoria Ward was very nice with us, and (General Growth) has been more than fair, too," said Whitehurst.

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