Mexican-style restaurant bids adios to Kailua


POSTED: Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Cisco's Cantina in Kailua has closed its doors.

Cancer, death and an economy in decline joined to dash a dream.

Aside from the death of her husband Bill Cutler, closing the restaurant “;is probably one of the hardest things I've had to deal with in my life,”; said his widow, JoAnna Hernandez.

Its last day of service was Jan. 20, though its lease was not due to expire until the end of this year.

Hernandez was once a waitress at Cisco's, where Cutler worked as a line cook and kitchen manager. The two worked together previously at Bueno Nalo, but when it closed in 1988, they moved to Cisco's.

Cutler worked there on and off for 15 years and he and JoAnna eventually bought the place, taking possession of it in 2005.

Then he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Through his treatments and remission the two pushed forward with their dream, planning $30,000 for renovating the eatery that would emphasize family dining while retaining the bar - and that would support local musicians as well as the arts community. Hernandez is a jewelry maker and longtime member of the Pacific Handcrafters Guild.

Cutler died in August 2006 and the ambitious plans were slowed.

“;Part of the problem was, I took it on, on behalf of my husband,”; she said.

“;We thought we had the staff, the initiative and the knowledge to do it, but ultimately it's those little tiny, tiny things that if they're not paid attention to, they end up biting you in the butt,”; she said.

Longtime regulars continued to support Cisco's despite increased restaurant competition in Kailua.

September and October were generally slow months for Cisco's “;and in general we were prepared to slow down during that time, but that was about the time of the whole economic scare, it was kind of double-fisted, and within a few months, we were behind.”;

“;It just snowballed and before we knew it, we just knew that we couldn't recover,”; Hernandez said.

She had sought investors and one was “;very, very interested,”; but a deal never materialized. “;It ended up coming down to the volatility of property in Kailua.”;

Hernandez's advisers encouraged her to close months ago, but she resisted, to keep her 23 full- and part-time employees working.

“;They weren't just employees. They were people I cared about and I felt cared about me,”; having been together through Cutler's illness.

There has been a Mexican, or Mexican-inspired restaurant at 131 Hekili St. since at least 1973, when Ole's opened.

A kitchen fire forced Ole's closure, but it was purchased and reopened in 1984 as Cisco's Cantina.


Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).