Competitors join up, make lemonade from sour economy


POSTED: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Honolulu Restaurant Supply Co. Inc. has merged with former rival Mid City Restaurant Equipment and vacated its old space at 666 Mapunapuna St.

This is a lemonade story, as in, making lemonade when life gives you lemons.

Honolulu Restaurant Supply lost its lease, as its landlord decided to use the space, said Sherwood Crowell, now a vice president of Mid City.

That sent him space shopping. Accustomed to paying about $1.50 per square foot, he found “;nothing under $2.”;

“;All these owners and Realtors and whatever, they want triple the money to lease space,”; he said.

Meanwhile, Mid City President Robert Vavul had been “;hounding Sherwood to join forces with me,”; Vavul said.

The last three years had been tough for Crowell's company as road-widening work in the area “;killed the walk-in traffic ... because there was no access,”; for customers who wanted to come in “;to buy a pot or a frying pan or buy a knife, that all died,”; Crowell said.

“;We took a terrible hit. I'm surprised we lasted that duration. We were fortunate that we had small projects in between that kind of kept us afloat.”;

Honolulu Restaurant Supply was established in 1959 by John Lind, father of well-known blogger and former Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter Ian Lind.

The elder Lind is in declining health.

“;My father walked away from, basically a corporate job as a manager for a mainland company's Hawaii operations, the year of statehood, and somehow got on the ground and got going. He managed to run that business and be a substantive part of the hospitality industry, until he was 85. That's quite a cool run,”; said the younger Lind.

Crowell bought the business in 1998 in “;sort of a handshake deal, for payment over time,”; Ian said.

“;Sherwood worked there for so long he really felt good leaving the business in his hands ... despite his retirement, he really hoped the company would survive. I think Sherwood gave it his best. What more can you ask?”;

The former competitors “;finally struck a deal and we're both very happy,”; Vavul said. “;We had no idea this economy was coming, so we dodged a bullet.”;

Crowell's customers now shop at 285 Sand Island Access Road, where Mid City and foodservice distributor Y. Hata & Co. Ltd., are co-located and open to the public.

As with lemonade, it is bittersweet that the long-lived Honolulu Restaurant Supply name is no longer on the marquee, but at the same time, it did not simply go out of business.

Vavul wears a Mid City shirt but Crowell “;still wears his Honolulu Restaurant Supply T-shirt and probably will for the next 30 years — and that's OK with me,”; Vavul laughed.