Luquin ‘very close’ to opening new Pahoa restaurant

  • The remains of the popular Mexican restaurant destroyed by a fire in 2017 is pictured. Plans call for a new restaurant opening in 2019. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
  • Salvador Luquin serves nachos to Rayna Robinson from his food truck in April 2017 in the old Luquin's Mexican Restaurant parking lot in Pahoa. The popular Puna restaurant burned down in January of that year along with the historic Akebono Theatre. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — After a year of delays, a popular Pahoa restaurant will finally open its new location in 2019 after being destroyed last year.

Luquin’s Mexican Restaurant was decimated in January 2017 in a fire that also consumed the historic Akebono Theatre. Later that year, the restaurant’s owner said he hoped to open a new location on Kahakai Boulevard in Pahoa by the 2017 holidays.

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One year later, the new location remains closed.

“Permits took longer than we thought,” said owner Salvador Luquin. “But now, everything’s done, everything’s signed.”

With all construction work on the restaurant completed, leaving only some paperwork and other logistics to be determined, the opening date for the Kahakai location is “very close,” Luquin said, but has not yet been determined.

“The new location allows something like 60 people,” said Kirstin Heid, who co-manages the restaurant with Luquin. “So we don’t want to announce a date and get like 500 people, or even 100 people in line.”

“We will be open in 2019, though,” Heid asserted.

Since the fire, Luquin has managed Luquin’s Mexican Food Truck out of a lot behind the original restaurant location. He said he intends to continue operating the truck even after the Kahakai location opens.

Some employees of the food truck will split their work between the two locations, Heid said, adding that she has not yet determined how many new employees will need to be hired.

Heid said the food truck has pulled consistent business thanks to a loyal local customer base. Even through the Kilauea eruption, which forced many surrounding residents from their homes, Heid said the truck has been able to bounce back, although she conceded that May, when the eruption began, was a difficult month for the business.

However, while the new restaurant will finally serve customers next year, Luquin admitted he is no closer to rebuilding the original restaurant or the Akebono Theatre, something he previously said was a long-term goal.

Last year, Luquin said he hoped to have a concrete plan for rebuilding the old properties by the middle of 2018, after the previous opening date of the Kahakai location. Luquin expected to prioritize rebuilding the Akebono Theatre — which would have turned 101 years old this month had it not been destroyed — before the old restaurant.

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“We don’t have any plans for the old place right now,” Luquin said. “We’re just doing one thing at a time right now.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.