Matthew Prensky
Matthew Prensky · February 26, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to city officials in Honolulu, Hawaii, calling on them to change a city ordinance that’s driving several popular restaurants in Honolulu’s Waikiki District out of business. 

One of those restaurants is EbiNomi, which was opened by Stewart Chung and his brother Andy. The brothers opened the restaurant just before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. The restaurant’s comfort-style cuisine helped it survive the pandemic, but EbiNomi is now weeks away from closing due to a city ban on portable signs. Since opening, Stewart has relied on a small A-frame sign (also known as a menu board sign) to help guide customers to his restaurant, which is tucked away in a private courtyard, nearly invisible to pedestrians from the street.  

However, last September a city inspector told Stewart he could no longer use his sign because Honolulu bans certain businesses from using portable signs, even if they’re on private property near sidewalks. Under Honolulu’s regulations, restaurants such as Stewart’s can’t use portable signs, but realtors, politicians, and others can. Stewart’s restaurant and others in the Waikiki District need signs to help customers find their businesses. Without those signs, sales at Stewart’s restaurant and others have plummeted, causing many to approach their breaking point. 

“My brother and I put everything into this restaurant,” said EbiNomi owner Stewart Chung. “We hoped this would help us retire and are proud to have a staff of 15. But now we’re on the brink of closing for good.” 

The Institute for Justice (IJ) stands with Stewart and the Waikiki District’s other businesses who are not only being pushed to the brink but are also having their constitutional rights violated. In a letter to Honolulu city leaders, IJ warned that Honolulu’s ban is almost certainly unconstitutional. Under the First Amendment, the government can’t censor an individual’s message because of its content. Allowing some types of businesses to use portable signs, but not restaurants, is unconstitutional censorship and discriminatory. Therefore, IJ urged city leaders to repeal the ban to allow Stewart and others to place small signs on private property near sidewalks. 

“Honolulu’s sign ban is putting hard-working local restaurants out of business,” said IJ Attorney Daniel Nelson. “The government doesn’t have the right to pick and choose what messages it allows. The Constitution protects every American’s right to free speech, and Honolulu must respect that.”  

IJ has a long history of fighting to protect Americans’ right to free speech through challenging unconstitutional sign code restrictions, including victories in Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, and Washington