Taste of Honolulu folds up the table
Easter Seals Hawaii decides to end the event and focus on its core mission
The Taste of Honolulu drew tens of thousands of people and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
So it's success, not failure, that's finally killing the event.
Easter Seals Hawaii announced yesterday it will no longer produce the Taste, which drew as many as 50,000 people each year during its 15-year run.
"We're not an event producer," said John Howell, Easter Seals Hawaii president and chief executive officer.
Although the Taste of Honolulu was a moneymaker for Easter Seals, raking in more than $2.155 million over the years, the organization needs to focus on its mission of helping those with disabilities, Howell said.
Held at the Honolulu Civic Center grounds, it netted $200,000 a year on average, hitting an all-time high of $280,000 this year.
"We're kind of a victim of our own success," Howell said, noting "the event got bigger and more involved."
The 100-tent, three-day annual summer event, with its complexities and details, required too much time away from the organization's core mission of providing services including physical, occupational and speech therapy for children and adults with disabilities.
Easter Seals Hawaii employs 400 people on six islands, including therapists and social workers.
STAR-BULLETIN / JUNE 2006
The Taste of Honolulu, held annually at the Honolulu Civic Center, will end after losing support from Easter Seals Hawaii.
About 80 percent of its revenue comes from state contracts, and includes early- intervention services and adult programs. The other 20 percent comes from multiple fundraiser events.
But Taste of Honolulu required detailed planning and a year's worth of preparations, occupying most of its staff with volunteering at the event and coordinating 2,500 volunteers.
"We're very sad we've reached this point," Howell said. "The worst thing we could do is to continue" and allow it to keep the organization from delivering needed services.
But Easter Seals Hawaii plans to have a replacement event similar to the Chef du Jour featured at the Taste of Honolulu. Howell believes it will raise enough money by having a $135-a-plate sit-down dinner featuring a lineup of chefs and entertainment -- with a more manageable crowd of only 1,000.
"The magnitude is incredibly easier and it really becomes more manageable," he said. "You pay more but get more in terms of chefs, food and wine and more."
As Taste of Honolulu gained popularity, other nonprofit groups began hosting similar events.
Howell said he's not sure "how much longer we could sustain it with all the competition."
Hotel restaurants at the Hyatt, Hilton and Prince Court have been participating in Taste for many years, with the Hyatt participating all 15 years.
For smaller restaurants, "it's brutal on them," having to close for the weekend and preparing weeks in advance, he said.
But the event helped many small up-and-coming restaurants gain name recognition.
Old-timers like Top of Waikiki benefited, too.
"It gave us a chance to display our food to the local public, which is great because it helps people come into Waikiki," manager Robert Lee said.
"It is a great event for the industry itself," he said. "It's one of the best if not the best."
And he added, "It's a great way to help out Easter Seals."
Howell said the nonprofit organization planned on publicly announcing the decision in January, but the news leaked out even before employees had been informed.
"If anybody is generally interested in doing the event, we'd be willing to talk to them," Howell said.