For Stephen and Liz Yundt, the volcanic eruption that began on May 3 was Kilauea lava flow No. 3 for the pair. The Yundts run Pele’s Kitchen, a cozy breakfast joint in Pahoa in east Big Island. The small, quirky town has old Hawaii charm and is a tight-knit community. It’s one that is also familiar with dealing with Kilauea over the past decades.
“We always say Pele is testing us,” says Stephen Yundt, from his kitchen in Pahoa. Despite the natural disaster, the homey cafe has remained open.
Among the cozy towns dotting east Big Island, the two hardest hit are Pahoa and Volcano Village. Pahoa is the epicenter of the eruption. Here the lava has claimed roughly 700 homes and a school, displaced residents, affected wildlife, and completely filled in a beloved bay. Thirty miles away, Volcano Village has also been impacted. Although the hamlet, home to a vibrant arts and science community, wasn’t in the path of the eruption, it’s five minutes from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has been closed indefinitely due to daily ongoing seismic activity. Closures and safety concerns have significantly impacted local mom-and-pop businesses in the two towns that heavily depend on visitors passing through.
“The whole town is devastated,” says Yundt, “Especially the daytime businesses.” Pele’s Kitchen is a breakfast cafe and has suffered from the loss of its regular customers as many of them had to evacuate. He says Pele’s Kitchen has seen a 75 percent decrease in business.
“Business has been slow,” admits Ira Ono, owner of Cafe Ono. Cafe Ono is a vegetarian restaurant in Volcano housed in a historic building with outdoor seating. The cafe strives to source its ingredients from the Islands. Ono says since the eruption began, visitors to the cafe have decreased 40 percent to the point that he’s had to cut employee hours and lay off one of his five employees. The cafe also had to change its hours. Regularly open for lunch from 11AM to 3PM, now Cafe Ono closes at 2PM.
“What’s saving us right now is our local business,” he says. “That wasn’t always the case. It used to be eighty percent tourists and twenty [local]. Now it’s the opposite. Local people are coming up here to support us.”
Just up the street, Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant has also had to cut employee hours as fewer people are coming through the doors. Like at Cafe Ono, the Lodge’s general manager Janet Coney says employees have had their hours cut back due to the downturn in business. The lodge is still accepting bookings and is offering special room rates.
The eruption has also made these restaurants adapt when it comes to available ingredients. Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant always had papaya available for breakfast, but it is no longer able to serve it. “We are not bringing in papaya anymore since most of the island’s supply is now covered by lava.”
Yundt says he, too is trying to preserve available fruits available at Pele’s Kitchen. He has a three-acre organic farm in Pahoa and is working to save his fruit trees, including papaya, avocado, cacao, and coffee.
Although Kilauea is still erupting, it’s still safe to visit these businesses. “The air quality is fine here,” says Ono. He says the business community came together and created Experience Volcano, a website, social media campaign and print brochure that showcases Volcano businesses and its thriving community. “We’re putting the word out that there’s plenty to here even though the national park is closed,” he says.
“We’re strong here,” adds Yundt. “You can either exist with the lava or you can’t, and you leave and go someplace else.”