An Island Commitment

By Randy Schoch
Wednesday - September 27, 2006
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(from left) Paul Ah Cook, Randy Schoch, singer Danny Kaleikini and Darren Yasui
(from left) Paul Ah Cook, Randy Schoch, singer Danny
Kaleikini and Darren Yasui

Even though my family and I relocated our primary residence to Scottsdale, Ariz., more than a decade ago, Hawaii remains my home and place of business, as evidenced by my company name, Desert Island Restaurants.

Spending the summer in Honolulu just reinforced what I already knew: Hawaii is the most wonderful spot on the planet and that despite the trials and tribulations of doing business in the middle of the Pacific, nothing can match the island experience.

I literally grew up in the Hawaii restaurant industry, learning from many masters of the trade. From the age of 18, I worked my way up from busboy to owner of Nick’s Fishmarket, and in the process learned the value of people skills and customer service. The standards of tableside excellence I learned were conveyed to my employees as I went on to open the very successful and celebrity-oriented Black Orchid in Restaurant Row, and to work for Ruth’s Chris Steak House on the Mainland.

Since that time, whether heading Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Restaurant Row, opening new locations on Maui and soon on the Big Island (Oct. 9 at The Shops at Mauna Lani), or debuting the first Romano’s Macaroni Grill on Oahu at Ala Moana Center nearly a year ago, I’ve kept in mind that the greatest resources we have are our employees and the biggest treasures we have are our customers. People are the embodiment of the “Aloha Spirit,” and because of their efforts, my franchised establishments have become among the most successful, if not the highest-grossing units in the entire chain.

Bricks and mortar are important, no doubt. Our Restaurant Row location features comfortable booths, well-appointed tables, outdoor dining and private rooms for parties and meetings. Our Lahaina location affords an unbeatable view of the harbor. And the resort setting of Wailea is unequaled.

We pay strict attention to every detail as we build a new restaurant.

On the Big Island, for example, Kevin Jennier, our director of development and construction, has been overseeing operations as construction takes place. Our general manager, Charly Yoshida, is attending to the overall operation of the restaurant, recruiting employees with top-notch credentials. Our interior designers from Kathy Merrill & Associates have incorporated the feel of the islands with the needs of a 21st century restaurant, evaluating everything from the gentle island tradewinds to Hawaii history for their inspiration. But again, nothing is more paramount to us as we move toward opening our newest $4 million venture than hiring good employees that make dining at Ruth’s Chris memorable for all.

What makes the Ruth’s Chris dining experience so special?

First of all, the quality of our food never wavers, thanks to the watchful eye of regional executive chef, Nawai Kekoolani. Secondly, the attitude of our employees is second to none -

the smiles on their faces, their sincere interest in the guests, their pride in being part of the team and their willingness to share information about our island home.

I wish I could take the credit for this attitude, but it’s bigger and more intrinsic than anything I can say to our employees. It’s embodied by everything our Hawaii vice president Paul Ah Cook says and does, everything our GMs impart from the first interview to nightly pre-shift meetings.

Ruth’s Chris might have started in New Orleans in the 1960s and Romano’s Macaroni Grill may trace its roots to Dallas, but we have put our Hawaii “stamp” on the operations. We are proud to employ more than 400 people statewide (and 500 by 2007 when we open our next Ruth’s Chris in the Beach Walk project in Waikiki) as Desert Island Restaurants reaffirms our commitment always to the islands.

Next Week: Wendy Burkholder of Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Hawaii

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