Living A Dream At IHOP

By Sarah Espino
Wednesday - October 11, 2006
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Starting the day with pancakes: (standing) IHOP server Kelley O’Neill; seated (from left): Jeffrey Apaka of Waikiki Community Center, Sarah Espino, Stacey Acma, Michael Robinson of Hawaii Pacific Health
Starting the day with pancakes: (standing) IHOP server
Kelley O’Neill; seated (from left): Jeffrey Apaka of Waikiki
Community Center, Sarah Espino, Stacey Acma, Michael
Robinson of Hawaii Pacific Health

Being a restaurant owner has always been my dream. As a child growing up in Manila, I would imagine inviting people to my own restaurant one day. Even when I became a dentist in San Francisco in the late 1990s, I never abandoned that dream.

Then, one day, one of my patients asked me if I wanted to pursue my dental career or live my dreams. I thought about this and decided to live my dreams.

My first venture in the restaurant business was as the owner of two Fuddruckers hamburger restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area. It was a family business, as my husband Vince joined me in running the restaurants.

Our interest in Hawaii was sparked during a family vacation, when we quickly fell in love with the people. Everyone was so friendly and treated us like family. The aloha spirit made a huge impression on us, so we immediately wanted to move to Hawaii, but we didn’t know how. One morning during our vacation, Vince and I were both craving pancakes and were surprised to find out that at that time there was only one IHOP in the state. When we got home to the Bay Area, we researched the IHOP chain and recognized the opportunity to open an IHOP restaurant on Oahu. Now our company, Union Mak Corporation, has the exclusive development rights for IHOP restaurants in the state of Hawaii.

From the very beginning, we knew that owning and operating a business in Hawaii is a lot different from the mainland. We wanted everyone in our restaurant - tourists and locals - to feel the aloha spirit we felt as visitors to the islands. This plays a major part in our hiring practices.

We firmly believe in hiring someone based on their personality. Given the choice of a highly skilled applicant with no personality and a relatively unskilled applicant with a great personality who wants to learn and is motivated, we’ll go with the unskilled applicant every time. Skills can be taught, personality can’t.

When we finally opened our doors this past June at the Ohana Waikiki Malia Hotel on Kuhio Avenue, we were touched by the warm welcome we received from the community. Even without a big grand opening event, our restaurant was packed with people who drove in from all over the island to enjoy our food. We were so touched that instead of throwing a grand opening party, we decided to give back to the community. From Oct. 2-6, we held the IHOP Waikiki Community Week, during which time we donated a portion of our sales to two local charities, the Waikiki Community Center and the Kapiolani Children’s Miracle Network. The responses from both the charities and our customers were great.

We’re always looking for ways to incorporate parts of the islands into our restaurant. We currently have some local favorites on our menu, like loco moco, Portuguese sausage and Spam. Our chef is also looking into introducing local dinner specials such as beef stew, mahi mahi, kalua pig and shoyu chicken.

When I take a chance to sit back and look at all that I’ve accomplished, it’s very gratifying to be living my dream. I’m glad I took the advice of my patient. He also ended up being my husband!

Next Week: Scott Harada, Marian’s Island Wide Catering

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