Matthew Prensky
Matthew Prensky · March 22, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Yesterday, officials with the city of Honolulu’s Department of Planning agreed to stop enforcing an unconstitutional city ordinance that banned local businesses from displaying a small, portable sign to attract customers. In doing so, restaurants such as Honolulu’s EbiNomi will be able to continue serving the community and avoid having to shut down. 

Brothers Stewart and Andy Chung opened EbiNomi in 2020. For approximately three years, the restaurant used a small, portable A-frame menu board, placed on private property near the sidewalk, to attract customers to the business. The brothers relied on the sign because the restaurant isn’t easily visible from the street. However, last September, a Honolulu city inspector warned the restaurant to remove the portable sign, stating it violated the city’s sign code, which allows individuals like realtors, politicians, and event planners to use portable signs—but not restaurants. Inspectors sent out notices of violation for similar signs placed by other businesses.  

On behalf of Stewart and Andy, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to Honolulu officials last month warning them that the sign code provision was unconstitutional. The city’s ordinance didn’t just deprive Stewart and Andy of their constitutional right to advertise their award-winning restaurant; it threatened to drive EbiNomi and several other restaurants out of business. Thankfully, in a meeting with IJ this week, city planning officials agreed to suspend enforcement of the sign code while the city worked to amend the ordinance, thus allowing EbiNomi and others to avoid reaching their breaking point.   

As a result, both EbiNomi and other businesses can place one portable sign on private property, as long as they have the property owner’s permission and the sign doesn’t pose any safety problems. IJ will continue to work with Honolulu officials on amending the sign code. 

“Honolulu officials took an important first step for local businesses and the First Amendment,” said IJ Attorney Daniel Nelson. “Because Honolulu officials have promptly suspended enforcement of the portable-sign ban, EbiNomi and other businesses on the brink now will be able to stay open. Indeed, EbiNomi already is seeing a surge in sales through its portable menu sign.”   

IJ has a long history of fighting to protect Americans’ right to free speech by challenging unconstitutional sign code restrictions. In addition to this situation, IJ has several other victories in this field, including victories in Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, and Washington.