Crouching Lion closed
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The owner of the landmark Crouching Lion restaurant on Oahu's North Shore has shut down the business to replace its sewage system and avoid federal sanctions.
Both the landowner and tenant voluntarily closed the 50-year-old eatery -- now known as Michael's Restaurant and Sports Lounge at the Crouching Lion -- on Sunday so the existing cesspool can be replaced.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inspected the property in October and ordered the restaurant to come into compliance or face millions of dollars in fines.
Owner Michael Abreu hopes to reopen the restaurant in early 2008, though its closure has caused confusion among some of its 35 employees and long-time patrons, who say they were surprised when the business shut down this week.
Abreu said he is confident that he will be able to rehire all of the employees, some of whom have worked there for 35 to 40 years.
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The nostalgic Crouching Lion restaurant, nestled beneath the Koolau mountains on Oahu's North Shore, has shut down after being ordered to remove its cesspool or face millions of dollars in federal fines.
Both the landowner and tenant voluntarily closed the 50-year-old eatery -- now known as Michael's Restaurant and Sports Lounge at the Crouching Lion -- on Sunday while a new sewage system is installed to replace the existing cesspool. Cesspools have been banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which inspected the property in October.
The owners hope to reopen the restaurant in early 2008, though its closure has caused confusion among some of its 35 employees and long-time patrons, who say they were surprised when the business shut down this week.
"Nobody said anything about rehiring or coming back," said Kevin Ryder, who has worked at the Crouching Lion as a bartender and waiter for 10 years. "None of us really knew until Thursday and Friday that it was closing. Everyone was hoping for a Christmas miracle -- that something great would happen -- but it didn't."
Michael Abreu, who owns the restaurant, said that employees were laid off indefinitely because he couldn't specify a reopening date, since construction is based upon the contractors' timetable and when materials are available.
Abreu is confident that he will be able to rehire all of the employees, some of whom have worked there for 35 to 40 years.
Contractors have indicated that the work, which is expected to begin in January, could be done in three to four weeks, he said.
Abreu had originally expected to close the restaurant in January, but decided to close earlier after using the remaining food he had in stock.
"I'm not giving up on it, that's what I want people to know," he said.
Abreu, who bought the business two years ago, also owns the gift and gallery shop, which will remain open while upgrades are completed and other improvements are made to the restaurant, which opened in 1957.
Meanwhile, Abreu confirmed that the family that owns the land is interested in selling the fee. Abreu has been talking with several prospective buyers who share the current owners' desire to reopen the restaurant as soon as possible.
"The EPA will not let a sale be made or continue to let it be open for business until the septic system is in place," he said. "They didn't tell us we had to shut down, but they let us know in so many words that if we didn't get it installed they would levy fines against us equal to the value of the property."
The septic system is expected to cost about $100,000, though the cost of restaurant improvements hasn't been determined, said Robert Thurston, one of the landowners, who lives in Washington State. The cesspool has been in place since the first home on property was built in the 1920s.
Thurston has been working for two years to install a waste-water treatment plant at the property, which has an assessed value of $2.2 million.
The EPA in 1999 mandated that cesspools were to be replaced by septic plants by April 2005, but the cost of upgrading has been difficult for many local operations, particularly small business that don't have the resources, he said.
Area residents are hopeful the Kaaawa restaurant will reopen a much stronger establishment and be restored to its 1920s splendor.
"I cannot see that place being closed longer than two weeks," said Derek Butler, a North Shore resident and former Crouching Lion cook. "You have very few places to choose from on the North Shore -- it really is a diamond in the rough."