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Owner Kevin Yamada says the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession have hurt his business.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Kama'aina in downtown Forest Grove could move, says owner Kevin Yamada. He has seen business dry up this year and is concerned about the possibility Pacific University students won't return to campus anytime soon.Hawaiian eatery Kama'aina has shrunk under COVID-19.

The restaurant in downtown Forest Grove lost its concessions in the Moda Center and Veterans Memorial Coliseum when live entertainment collapsed. Now owner Kevin Yamada has just his Main Street space and one food cart.

Rather than quit, he's retooling his whole business.

"I lost a huge amount of my income," Yamada said. "And I lost a lot of my income from the food truck because I was doing corporate events and everybody was paying corporate rates. I lost my weddings. I lost my wineries."

He's now considering moving the restaurant from Forest Grove to somewhere more lucrative closer to Portland — although not downtown, he said, because of the high rents, protests and riots.

And it has to have a drive-thru.

"If I want the business to succeed, I have to follow the money," Yamada said.

He's already seen spots in Grant Park and Happy Valley.

Kama'aina has prospered in part because Pacific University has a lot of students from Hawaii who crave island comfort food, but school attendance is now uncertain. Social distancing doesn't help, Yamada said: Even during the lunch rush, there's no atmosphere, just people avoiding each other and picking up to-go bags.

"There's a thin line between failing and not failing. I only open enough tables where I'd only need one person working so I can keep the cost of labor down," Yamada said.

Yamada also plans to invest in food carts. He'll soon own three and will rent out a fourth. He's been parking his mana bowl truck outside apartment complexes. When everyone was home all day, he did lunches. Now the money comes at dinnertime, he said.

"In January, I'm really doubling down on the food trucks, because it's been the most consistent through all this," he said.

Until school was out, Kama'aina gave away thousands of free meals to students, no questions asked.

Going to online ordering helped, Yamada said, but there was a lag until July, when it took off.

Yamada said he thinks thing will get worse before they get better.

"The flu season is coming, and nobody can distinguish between a cold, COVID and the flu," he reasoned. "When people cough, people get scared. There's going to be a lot of withdrawal."


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