Steakhouse event helps restore paintings
HISTORIC art was at steak last night -- at the Morton's steakhouse in Ala Moana Center. The high-end steakery hosted a $150-per-person fundraising event for Bishop Museum's picture gallery and art conservation fund.
It also hosted some paintings restored at the museum that are not yet on display, as well as other paintings in need of restoration.
Restored works included an 1865 Enoch Wood Perry painting titled, "Diamond Head"; "Prince of Hawaii," based on the only known photograph of Prince Albert, son of Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma; and "Death of Cook," from about 1783, by George Carter.
The fundraising goal for the night was $30,000, said Patti-Jo Chong, public relations and marketing director at Bishop Museum. "It's a starter, if you will, because we have quite a few paintings on hand that do require conservation and restoration and so we're starting this process," she said.
The benefit at Morton's No. 62 of 69 locations is part of a national initiative under way for a while, according to Edie Ames, president of restaurant owner Morton's of Chicago Inc. She came to Honolulu for the event from the company's home base in the Windy City.
Each restaurant chooses a nonprofit organization as a fundraising cause so decisions can be made locally, she said.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Morton's executive Edie Ames hopes to evolve the company's "men's club feeling."
Such locally made decisions are good. Morton's learned that the hard way.
Morton's Honolulu opened at Ala Moana in November 2001 in a post-9/11 downturn.
At the time, then-President John Bettin told TheBuzz: "There are no variations from Honolulu to New York. Same menu, same product."
Morton's plan was to survive on the local economy, not the tourist economy.
It had a lesson to learn and soon added white rice to its Honolulu menu.
"We learned that very, very quickly, as you can imagine," Ames said.
"We also added a local seafood," she said. Honolulu's Morton's is the only one where opah or ahi is served, because "again, we listened to our guests," she said.
A restaurant where the average check is $82 per person for food and drink knows it has to listen to its guests if it wants to host them again, especially when it has a lower-cost competitor nearby that is planning to expand.
Ruth's Chris Steak House will eventually have two locations near Morton's -- in Restaurant Row and in the new Outrigger Beach Walk redevelopment in Waikiki.
Ames said she doesn't compare the two restaurants, while noting, "We have nothing but great things to say about them."
One purely business difference is that Morton's locations are all company-owned and -operated while Ruth's Chris is a combination of company and franchised operations.
Ames said the company is proud of the Honolulu Morton's sales, but did not divulge figures or rank its performance within the company.
She said General Manager Bill Nickerson, who oversees the 6,000-square-foot restaurant and its employees, "amazed" her Sunday night when she arrived.
The staff tends to as many as 149 guests in the dining room and up to 80 in so-called boardrooms.
The boardrooms are part of the restaurant's image and perception that Ames is hoping to evolve, but not just because she's a female president.
"It's funny how Morton's has a men's club feeling, that people perceive us that way, and that just really isn't who we are," she said.
Maybe it's all that dark wood?
Newer Morton's are getting these things called windows to soften up the ambiance a bit.
"We need to evolve our company, but very, very slowly," which is what Ames says her focus will be. Fans needn't worry about Morton's evolving to the point of going vegan.
"That's not going to happen," Ames chuckled.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: email@example.com