Hula’s Island Grill: riding the COVID wave to a better future
Hula’s Island Grill has been a fixture in the community since 2006, but when the pandemic hit, they experienced challenges that seemed insurmountable. Despite those challenges, Santa Cruz Community Credit Union helped them secure a business loan that kept them thriving in unique ways while continuing their mission to give back to the community.
A throwback to the popular tiki restaurants and bars of the ’50s & ’60s, Hula’s Island Grill will give you the feeling you’re on an island (but you’re actually on Cathcart Street). You can drink a unique cocktail at their happy hour, get a bite to eat during your lunch hour, or enjoy a full dinner.
Created by Chris Delaney and his brother Craig, the original location opened in Monterey in 1998. Eight years later, Chris reached out to his friend, Ian McRae, to open a Hula’s in Santa Cruz. They decided to open in 2006, and it was immediately successful.
“We’ve been profitable since day one in Santa Cruz,” stated McRae (now Managing Partner of Hula’s). “The surfing and beach décor, as well as the theme and style of food, has been an absolute hit with Santa Cruzans. We’ve been busy since the beginning, and it’s been a thrill to be part of this journey in this community.”
A year like no other: embracing the new “normal”
McRae shared that the most challenging year they’ve experienced thus far has been this past year due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.
“Like most restaurants, when the pandemic hit, we immediately closed for two months and then reopened with take-out only service,” explained McRae. “We had to lay off roughly 70% of our staff, and honestly, I didn’t know what would happen.”
Hula’s began to serve customers outdoors upon approval from the City of Santa Cruz. “We’re grateful to Granite Construction and CalTrans, who helped us get ready to us provide an outdoor dining experience for customers.”
When the government began offering assistance, McRae said he reached out to a local bank for help — but no one helped him.
“I couldn’t get any help, so I called Santa Cruz Community Credit Union because they were involved with the city’s micro-loan program. I immediately got the answers I was looking for when I called. I can’t thank Brian Ogle enough for his support during that time. He took the guesswork out of everything.”
We weren’t members but became members immediately because Santa Cruz Community Credit Union was there during our greatest hour of need.
— Ian McRae, Managing Partner of Hula’s
“Serving” the community: two mission-aligned businesses unite
Throughout 2021 and beyond, Hula’s will continue to offer “Mahalo Mondays.” Every Monday, Hula’s will share a percentage of its proceeds to a local non-profit in the arts, environment, or social services. “It’s important to us to share our success and help those in the community who need it most,” stated McRae.
And that’s where the Credit Union and Hula’s unite again — reaching out to the community to provide genuine care to those in need.
In 2020, SCCCU contributed over $180,000 to local non-profit organizations to help those on the front line of the pandemic and fire recovery. So far in 2021, the Credit Union has sponsored vaccination clinics with the Volunteer Center and a run/walk for the Pajaro Valley Shelter Services.
And currently, there are plans to sponsor another “Return the Favor” campaign to support local non-profits in our community.
It’s wonderful to work closely with businesses in our community like Hula’s. We hope to collaborate with many businesses this year to help care for those in need within our community.
— Katie Fairbairn, VP of Organizational Development and Member Communication
“2020 was devastating for many, and we’re committed to helping people get back on their feet. Our mission is to provide economic justice for all — and we’re serious about making that happen.”
Silverlining: keeping the outdoor fixture
When asked what the future holds for Hula’s, McRae said they would like to keep the outdoor space designed during COVID. “It’s popular among our customers — they love it!” exclaimed McRae.
But whatever is in store for Hula’s Island Grill, it’s clear they can count on our community and SCCCU to help them thrive. “We’re grateful to our community for the support we’ve received. And hooking up with SCCCU was our lifesaver!” exclaimed McRae.
Check out their full menu and make a reservation today at Hula’s Island Grill.
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