DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Flamingo restaurant at Windward City Shopping Center will be closing July 22 after 20 years in business.
Flamingo’s to fly its Windward coop
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Flamingo restaurant at Windward City Shopping Center will close its doors July 22 after 20 years in business.
Its lease expired last month, and the family that runs the iconic Hawaii restaurant chain made the "heart-wrenching" decision to close its doors.
Business has slowed, business expenses are rising and "all of these huge mainland chains are coming in," said Sandy Chong, who manages the restaurant and is a member of the Nagamine family that established the chain in 1950.
The Nagamine family's hearts wanted a five-year lease extension, but their heads told them it did not make business sense to continue operating the restaurant, which has been at Windward City Shopping Center for two decades.
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The familiar, familial Flamingo family of restaurants will lose its Windward sister after July 22, when the Windward City Shopping Center location closes its doors.
The restaurants at 871 Kapiolani Blvd. and at 803 Kamehameha Highway in Pearl City will remain open, serving their American and local fare, including what would be, "in a smaller world, our world-famous double-crusted banana pie," said Sandy Chong. She is a part-owner of Flamingo Enterprises Inc. who also manages the Windward restaurant.
The Kaneohe Flamingo's lease expired last month, and its owners were faced with a heart-or-head decision.
"The heart said, 'Yeah,'" to continue operating with a five-year extension, Chong said.
"The head said, 'It doesn't make financial sense,' but it was a heart-wrenching decision for our board members," she said.
The five-year extension discussed with leasing company Hawaiian Asset Management would have required reinvestment to repair and upgrade the restaurant, and five years was not enough time to do the work and recoup costs, said Jean Shimabukuro, Flamingo vice president and Chong's sister.
Chong added, "Business has slowed, all of these huge mainland chains are coming in and to run a business is costing us more and more."
Hawaiian Asset Management is "sad to see them leave," said principal broker Austin Hirayama. The company has begun marketing the 6,500-square-foot space.
Shimabukuro called the location "prime," noting its parking among other features.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Kaneohe Flamingo's lease expired last month, and its owners have decided to close the restaurant. The Windward location opened in 1987.
Chong said the "most difficult thing" is the closure's impact on the 52 employees, some of whom have worked for the company since her late father ran it, including chef Juanito Dela Cruz. He started as a 15- or 16-year-old dishwasher at the original Cafe Flamingo on Ala Moana Boulevard, which opened in 1950 as the Nagamine family's first restaurant.
"My dad saw in him the potential," so during slow times the chef would teach him "this and that," Chong said. "You know, my dad was always looking to give a hard worker an opportunity."
"There are some waitresses here from our Ala Moana days, so when we say we've really grown together and we are a family, I truly mean it."
Others, like a former bartender named Clotilde, joined the ohana after the closing of another famous family eatery and watering hole, Columbia Inn, on Kapiolani Boulevard.
The Kapiolani and Pearl City Flamingo restaurants will not be able to absorb all 52 employees, but they have been given the opportunity to apply, Chong said.
The Windward Flamingo opened in 1987 after Cafe Flamingo lost its lease on Ala Moana Boulevard after 37 years. It was razed to make way for Restaurant Row.
The Nagamines have seen tougher times, such as the 1990s, when they had to put their famed Flamingo Chuckwagon, on Kapiolani Boulevard, on the market to pay off debt.
Shimabukuro's voice warms when speaking of Flamingo's time in Windward Oahu.
"We've had 20 wonderful years over there and made a lot of friends, and our customers were very, very supportive."
Chong did not want cameras in the restaurant until next week, to minimize disruption to her employees and to allow for time to decorate the place with "fun stuff," as she plans to "go out with a bang."