Sharing an Abundance of Aloha With the World
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Two scoops of aloha go into every creation at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, a restaurant chain that has flourished for nearly four decades and is still going strong. With approximately 60 Hawaii franchises, L&L has expanded to the Mainland and has gained universal appeal with restaurants in Japan, China and New Zealand, to name a few.
Dining Out recently hit up this popular spot for diners, as we needed to get our fix of local fare. Coveted for its home-cooked local favorites (made fresh from scratch), L&L-branded restaurants employ about 2,700 employees at 190 locations. Here at home, vice president and chief operating officer Bryan Andaya reveals exactly what has led to L&L’s success.
DO: Let’s rewind to 1976. How did this renowned eatery first make its mark on the dining scene?
Andaya: Our current owner Eddie Flores Jr., an immigrant from Hong Kong, purchased L& L Drive-Inn on Liliha Street as a gift to his mother. After some experimentation and involvement from Eddie’s business partner, Kwock Yum (Johnson) Kam, the restaurant became immensely popular, known for the value it provided — great local flavors in generous portions at reasonable prices. L&L expanded statewide and became a franchise in 1999, when it also expanded to the Mainland. In crossing the Pacific, Eddie coined the phrase “Hawaiian Barbecue” to familiarize the brand to Mainlanders, and emphasize the connection to the Islands.
DO: What is the restaurant’s philosophy?
Andaya: L&L aims to spread aloha in the form of local island cuisine around the world, and we accomplish this through consistent branding of the company.
DO: What makes L&L stand out from the rest?
Andaya: We are perhaps the only business — and certainly the first business — that originated in Hawaii, and now have a substantial presence outside the Islands. People still are surprised to find out that we are located in 10 states and four countries, stretching from New York, to New Zealand and Asia.
DO: Have there been any changes at L&L recently?
Andaya: We recently introduced our Saimin Burger ($5.95*) — L&L’s local version of the ramen burger made famous by Keizo Shimamoto from New York — that has caused quite a stir, especially with the controversy regarding the name. The controversy actually has boosted customer curiosity, resulting in increased sales (with some locations selling more than 100 Saimin Burgers each day). Patrons love the combination of our signature hamburger patty topped off with our secret sauce. Sales of these Saimin Burgers are hot, hot, hot, and it appears that it will become a permanent fixture on our menu. We are happy we have made this foodie concoction available to the public at lower prices.
Besides the Saimin Burger, there has been a push at L&L to offer healthy alternatives to our favorite plate lunches. Sales of our new line of “Healthy Plates,” which is basically a salad with choice of protein and a scoop of brown rice, continue to grow. Believe it or not, our menus now include the number of calories in each item, so our customers can make informed choices. Garlic Shrimp (Healthy Plate, $9.25*), for example, has only 400 calories, and features tasty, succulent shrimp on a bed of tossed greens with a side of brown rice.
DO: That’s a wonderful, guilt-free option! However, for those who want the “real deal,” what are some L&L classics?
Andaya: Chicken Katsu ($5.95 mini, $8.45 regular*) is the dish L&L made famous. You can never go wrong with this best-selling dish — again it’s the freshness that counts. Loco Moco ($6.35 mini, $9.15 regular*) also is a perennial local favorite, which consists of made-to-order eggs and our gravy that perfectly balances the eggs, hamburger and rice.
DO: What is the contributing factor to L&L’s universal appeal?
Andaya: The great thing about L&L is that we have something for everyone: from longtime kamaaina to visitors; from hungry construction workers to dieting office workers. You won’t leave here hungry or broke, and you know that each item will taste dependably good.
DO: What are some fun facts about L&L that our readers would be interested in knowing?
Andaya: Well, did you know that we have a waiting list of franchisees in Hawaii waiting to open L&L restaurants? We just have to find suitable locations for them without cannibalizing the market.
L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
801 Dillingham Blvd., Suite 1-E, Honolulu (and various locations)
Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Saturday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sunday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
Note: * Prices vary by location