RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STAR-BULLETIN.COM
Joey Wolpert, owner of rRed Elephant Cafe on Bethel Street, sits at one of the tables set up outside the shop, which is now closed.
rRed Elephant closes following a 3-year run
The combined cafe, concert venue and studio area was only breaking even at best
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rRed Elephant, a cafe, live concert venue and recording studio, closed its doors on Friday, citing business costs.
Owners Joey Wolpert and Paul Kreiling said product ran out Friday afternoon at about 2 p.m., and that's when the business at 1144 Bethel St. officially closed its doors.
Unfortunately, after crunching numbers, the pair decided they would have to go elsewhere to pursue their goals of keeping the music side of the business afloat.
While the cafe had a steady flow of customers, it was only breaking even, and that was not enough to sustain the other sides of the business.
The rRed Elephant was a regular participant of the First Friday art gallery walk scene, and a popular gathering spot for artistic types in the neighborhood.
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There was no fanfare, nor farewell ceremony, just a few loyal customers who came by one last time before rRed Elephant
closed its doors at 3 p.m. on Friday.
Owners Joey Wolpert and Paul Kreiling left a written notice on the cafe's doors at 1144 Bethel St., thanking customers for their support.
The business partners decided after crunching some numbers that they needed to pursue their goals elsewhere, where the cost of business wasn't as high.
The rRed Elephant was a cafe, combined with a live concert venue and recording studio.
"The truth is, Paul and I came here to produce media, and we made a decision to develop and ultimately produce a high-quality series called Live at the rRed Elephant," Wolpert told the Star-Bulletin. "We've been working diligently with the music community. What we could not come up with is the appropriate financing for the show."
The goal was to produce a primetime T.V. series featuring 22 episodes of the best music from Hawaii (of all genres) that would pair local giants with mainland acts.
Profit margins for the rRed Elephant have been affected negatively, said Wolpert, particularly in the last six months due to the high costs of goods. After sitting down and looking at the numbers, the pair decided they would have to pull up their stakes and go somewhere else.
"There's only so much you can raise your prices," said Wolpert.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
The rRed Elephant Cafe closed its doors on Friday, after letting go of five of its employees the same day.
Five employees were let go on Friday, the last day of business.
The rRed Elephant cafe first opened its doors in October 2005, and the recording studio in January 2006.
Altogether, it occupied about 4,000 square feet at the Arts at Marks building, which also is home to several arts galleries, including the namesake Arts at Marks Garage.
The cafe had a steady and loyal crowd of customers, according to Wolpert, which included many in the creative arts and film business as well as students from Hawaii Pacific University.
But the cafe was just breaking even, and that wasn't enough to sustain the other two-thirds of the business.
"We would have been happy to operate the cafe marginally if the media company were to take off," said Wolpert. "The cafe wasn't intended to carry the weight of the entire 4,000 square feet. The cafe is less than a third of that."
There is a very slim chance -- Wolpert said -- that talks with potential investors this week might save the business.
Wolpert, who was at one time president of the Arts District Merchants Association in Chinatown, kept the rRed Elephant Cafe open until 9 p.m. and sometimes later for special events.
rRed Elephant was a regular part of the First Friday gallery artwalk scene, and the cafe's walls provided space for artists.
Just a few months ago, the cafe also got a liquor license in order to serve liquor coffee drinks, such as the espresso martini. Another top-selling beverage was the Kundalini Express, which combined Chai and coffee.
Wolpert and Kreiling, in their notice to loyal customers and friends, also thanked Andy Friedlander, their landlord, for giving them a chance.
They said some of the concerts featured there were among some of the best they personally experienced during their more than 30-year music careers.
"In addition to the seasoned pros who have graced our stage, we've seen great growth in the young artists that have performed in our cafe," said the notice. "The recording artists that we have produced and recorded have been a pleasure to work with and we think that their music is as relevant as any anywhere."
Sandy Pohl, owner of the Louis Pohl gallery, says she's seen plenty of businesses come and go in the neighborhood, where she has been seven years.
Foot traffic has slowed down in the last two months, she said, but her sales are still strong.
"This is a really wonderful neighborhood," said Pohl. "It's friendly, but it's got to be the right mix of business with a game plan geared for success."
Pohl said maybe a retail store would fit well in the space left behind by the rRed Elephant. A new Italian pizza eatery is expected to open soon across from the rRed Elephant.
rRed Elephant's concert sound system, digital recording equipment, Boston grand piano, amplifiers and restaurant equipment are expected to go on sale shortly.