Sunday, August 30, 2015


Why don’t we have lots of sidewalk cafes and street foods in Honolulu?

by Larry Geller

Given Hawaii’s great year-round climate, you’d think:

1) Many of us would bicycle to work

2) We’d have virtually free energy from the sun, wind and waves

3) We’d love to dine outside at the plentiful sidewalk cafes

Well, we’re on the way, maybe, to #1. As to #2, not if current or future private utilities have their way. They must think we’re suckers, passively paying three times the national average for electricity, and maybe we are.

As to #3, it’s strange, but we’re not even trying. There are a few, but “few” is the operative word here.

NYC Sidewalk cafesNew York City has 1,357 sidewalk cafes licensed by the city, and some (uncounted) on private land (so that permits are not required). A new map shows the locations of existing outdoor cafes and the status of permit applications for new ones

Eating outdoors in New York is quite pleasant. Unfortunately, the map app above doesn’t link to menus, or they’d really have something.

Unlike Paris, where part of the pleasure seems to be to survey passersby, in New York I noted that people tend to concentrate on the food set before them.

Honolulu weather is, on average, much better than they get in NYC.

So where are our outdoor restaurants and cafes?


I used to visit Bethesda, Maryland quite often when I worked for GE because the headquarters of our division was there for a time. Several years ago I was back for a convention and noted a nearby street with extensive outdoor dining.

There were also benches just for sitting (and no parking meters to use them!), and benches at pedestrian crossings for the elderly or tired to rest a moment or to set down a heavy bag until the light changed.

See more pictures here, including one showing how NYC creates little parklets with flowers, benches and the occasional statue even at the intersection where two streets meet at an acute angle. Take a brown bag lunch outside or enjoy an espresso and catch up on an ebook just a few yards from the office door. Love it.

New York also has an extensive culture of ethnic street vendors with carts, not unlike the Japanese yatai (屋台). It’s not necessary to have a full food truck if all you crave is a hot dog, knish, pretzel, falafel, shish kebob, Italian sausage, a sandwich or a cold drink. I’m getting hungry just thinking of Halal Gyros, a gyros food cart at 53rd Street and 6th Avenue.

South American ethnic food (as well as practically anything else) can now also be found on the streets of Brooklyn, I’m told.

The city has a huge fleet of taco carts that were not there when we lived in Brooklyn.

Why not Honolulu? Take away the ugly planters near Thomas Square and give us some street carts instead.

If we must make an economic argument for everything, permitting street cafes and food carts would give a significant boost to employment as well. If our schools are not preparing students adequately for college, ok, let’s work on that, but on the other hand, it doesn’t take a college degree to serve up a tasty, healthy taco, does it.


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