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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 11, 2010

It's end of an era for John Dominis

by Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

John Dominis seafood restaurant in Kaka'ako will serve its last meal on April 30. The 254-seat restaurant had become too big for today's market, says founder Andy Anderson, who sold the eatery to a Japan-based investor in 2007.

Advertiser library photo

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

D.G. "Andy" Anderson.

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John Dominis, one of Hawai'i's most highly regarded seafood restaurants, is slated to serve its last meal on April 30, capping a 31-year run for the establishment on the water's edge in Kaka'ako.

A new owner of the property plans to demolish the building overhanging Kewalo Basin and replace it with a modern complex expected to include a wedding facility and restaurant set back from the shoreline.

The end for John Dominis hasn't been entirely unexpected, because its founder and owner, D.G. "Andy" Anderson, sold the restaurant in late 2007 to a Japan-based investor. Anderson at that time said he anticipated the new owner might redevelop the land, which is leased from the state, though he also arranged to maintain operations for at least 18 months.

The agreement for Anderson to continue running John Dominis and its adjacent wedding chapel was extended last year and set to expire at the end of April.

Anderson, an entrepreneur and former politician, said establishing a successful restaurant in 1979 on what was then and is still largely now an isolated industrial area with a fantastic view of Diamond Head was a great experience.

"What started out very questionably as to a restaurant at this location has proved to be one of the best things we have ever done," he said.

Anderson will mourn the loss of jobs for dedicated employees, some of whom have been with John Dominis for 25 years and one who he said was there when the restaurant opened.

The restaurant with 254 seats had become too big for today's market, according to Anderson, who also said escalating ground rent and the need for improvements to the salt-ravaged building raised the potential for redeveloping the attractive site.

The long ground lease with the state, which runs until 2042, also made redevelopment more likely.

The new owner, Ocean Investments LLC, earlier last week through a spokeswoman would not detail its plans. But the company on Wednesday received state approval to amend the ground lease to allow for redeveloping the site.

The Hawai'i Community Development Authority, the state agency governing development in Kaka'ako, said Ocean Investments intends to build a complex with a restaurant and wedding and meeting facilities.

A new building would comply with existing agency development rules, but also would be set back 30 feet to 40 feet from the water's edge to accommodate a potential future public pedestrian promenade, said agency executive director Anthony Ching.

Ocean Investments also agreed to pay the state potentially more rent by adding a percentage of its revenue to normal base rent under certain conditions, Ching said.

Some groups who have seen conceptual design plans for the property, including the 50-member Kaka'ako Makai Community Planning Advisory Council, have criticized the design for not reflecting a Hawaiian sense of place.

"CPAC is not thrilled about the new design," said group Chairman Ron Iwami. "(It's) too much like something you would see in Kāhala."

Other observers note that the design plan, which is being handled by the same architect who designed John Dominis, Joseph Lancor, haven't been finalized and are subject to change.

"I was unhappy in the beginning (about the plan to demolish John Dominis), but the new building will upstage John Dominis," Lancor said. "I'm excited about what this is going to be."