Popularizing Plate Lunch

By Eddie Flores
Wednesday - February 28, 2007
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L&L president Eddie Flores (fourth from left) and director of marketing Brandon T. Dela Cruz (second from left) pose with San Francisco franchisees
L&L president Eddie Flores (fourth from left) and director of
marketing Brandon T. Dela Cruz (second from left) pose with
San Francisco franchisees

As president of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, I was deeply honored when I found out I am the recipient of 2006 Salesperson of the Year Award from the Sales and Marketing Executives International, Honolulu Chapter. The SMEI award recognizes a sales and marketing executive who enhances the image of Hawaii and the quality of life in our community. I’d like to make copies of this award and give one to each member of the L&L family, because as a team, we all share the same entrepreneurial spirit and generosity.

Over our 30 years in existence, the ubiquity of the L&L brand of plate lunches has grown beyond the Hawaiian Islands. Since 1999, the food that we’ve all grown to love in Hawaii is now winning the appetites and hearts of those on the Mainland. L&L has been fortunate enough to grow our L&L brand of plate lunches across the country through our L&L Hawaiian Barbecue stores to the point that we’ve doubled our Hawaii presence throughout nine states including California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New York with 180 locations. Still, the question I always ask myself, as I asked myself back in 1999 when we first expanded to the Mainland, is can a Hawaii restaurant succeed on the Mainland?

As I travel across the Mainland visiting the various L&L Hawaiian Barbecue restaurants, I am also observant of other restaurants. I continued to be amazed not only by the diversity of choices of various ethnic foods, but also the ubiquity of these types of restaurants. Similarly, the ubiquity of plate lunch cuisine continues to grow on the Mainland. With every new L&L Hawaiian Barbecue restaurant, there have been, on average, two to three other “Hawaiian barbecue” copycats that open nearby within six months. This tells us one thing: We must have done something right.

The success of our L&L Hawaiian Barbecue restaurants is a testament to mainstream America’s diversification of tastes. Recent national restaurant industry trends show that Asian cuisines are growing in popularity. With that said, Hawaii is ahead of its time with our unique Asian-fusion plate lunch comfort food having been a long-established part of our culture and community. It is my belief that this trend will continue to grow, and that L&L Hawaiian Barbecue will ride the wave of popularity for Asian-fusion cuisine.

Still, our successes haven’t been without some shortcomings. We closed two stores, in Michigan and Illinois. And although we didn’t succeed in these areas, we learned a valuable lesson in that adjustment to the market is necessary for success. Our most successful stores have been able to adjust to cater to the wide range of customer preferences and tastes. Most recently, we’ve come out with our healthier plate lunches, replacing the scoop of white rice and the macaroni salad with a scoop of brown rice and tossed green salad. The bottom line is that L&L has to offer what our customers want.

So can a Hawaii restaurant succeed on the Mainland? Only time will tell. L&L has been fortunate enough to be successful in Hawaii and outside of our Pacific Ocean confines. We will continue to grow our L&L Hawaiian Barbecue restaurants at the rate of one new location every 12 days. Texas is our next targeted area, and Alaska is also on the horizon. And don’t forget to let your friends and family know that when they have a craving for the Islands, they’ll be able to find it at L&L!

The SMEI event is Thursday, March 8 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Tapa Ballroom. The general public is invited. Individual tickets are $65, or tables of 10 for $600. Premium and platinum tables also available. Call 942-7000 to reserve.

Next Week: Christine Van Bergeijk, Vice President of Programs for Hawaii Community Foundation

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