Local Culture And Ono Food

By Bill Tobin
Wednesday - April 25, 2007
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The Holokai Family (from left): Marc Akina, Stephanie Bilan, Kristy Watters, Travis Corrales, Eldon Ricardo, Bill Tobin
The Holokai Family (from left): Marc Akina, Stephanie
Bilan, Kristy Watters, Travis Corrales, Eldon Ricardo,
Bill Tobin

As the managing partner and CEO of Tiki’s Grill & Bar and our new restaurant, Holokai Grill, I’m occasionally asked why I went into the restaurant industry, with its low margins, long hours, high turnover, high stress, difficulty in hiring the right people, difficulty in pleasing people, etc., etc. Why would anybody be such a glutton for punishment? With the sleepless nights and ever-changing costs of doing business, I sometimes ask myself the same question.

On the other hand, there are not many careers where you can actively participate in other people’s lives on a daily basis. I often say that we in the restaurant industry are the custodians of people’s special moments - whether it’s celebrating a birthday or anniversary, a wedding proposal, a farewell dinner or just getting together with friends, people celebrate their lives around food, often in restaurants. In the restaurant industry we work to make people happy.

In a restaurant, guests come in your door with certain expectations that they hope you will fulfill. Our job is to fulfill their expectations, and if we’re good, we exceed those expectations. If we’re really good, we make them happy enough that when they’re leaving, they want to come back very soon.

The restaurant industry also helps to train our workforce. According to the National Restaurant Association, nearly half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some time during their lives and 32 percent of adults got their first job experience in a restaurant.

With little or no experience, a person can be hired at a restaurant and learn a valuable skill - likely a skill that is in demand across the nation. Restaurant jobs teach humility and the pleasure that can come from serving others and making others happy. They teach a sense of urgency and the need for clear communication.

Besides learning the value of coming to work and earning a paycheck, restaurant jobs teach people how to deal with others from many different backgrounds and walks of life. He or she learns to work with a team of people all working for a common goal. That team, and the periodic high stress involved in serving people in a timely manner, foster relationships that are often compared to an Ohana or second family.

Restaurants teach people how to multitask. Before the rush of the meal periods, we are all working to set each other up for success. During the “rush,” crew members are usually working on several meals for several customers at the same time. As things wind down we clean up and prepare for the next day.

At Holokai Grill, our crew members learn about Hawaiian culture and our unique sense of place through training given by Hawaiian hospitality specialists. They learn the importance of being part of a larger community and the value of giving back to that community.

At both of our restaurants we encourage a certain amount of entrepreneurship. Servers and bartenders, responsible for their own sections within the restaurant, are challenged to earn their compensation through tips. The better they run their sections, the better they do. Besides learning to be responsible for their own results and livelihood, many of them make more than their managers.

As a restaurant manager, and now as an owner, it’s very fulfilling to see young people learn under your charge. With the right tillage and support, many of them move on to bigger and better things. I’ve seen restaurant people grow into managers, doctors, lawyers, politicians and business owners, to name but a few. More importantly, I’ve seen many people grow into productive members of our community.

Yes, the restaurant industry can be tough. But for all the sleepless nights and long hours, making people happy and watching my staff grow makes it all worthwhile.

Next Week: David Watumull, CEO of Cardax

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