Steve Johnson

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - September 24, 2008
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When Steve Johnson appeared on MidWeek‘s cover in March 2007, the general manager of Kazi Foods Corp. spoke about Hawaii KFC restaurants’ change to zero-trans-fat cooking oils.

“Hawaii was one of the first places to have that introduced to the KFC brand,” says Johnson. He notes Hawaii is the only state where you can find steamed rice and a May’s teriyaki chicken sandwich on the menu.

“The Colonel’s logo had also changed at that time to a younger-looking Colonel Sanders, which corporate thought would change our demographic some.”

What the story didn’t tell you is he also oversees Hawaii’s Burger King restaurants, which have several menu items found only in Hawaii and also now use zero-trans-fat cooking oils.

Now, Johnson says, his restaurants are in a good, yet awkward, position. “The economy is starting to struggle a little bit,” he says. Sales from East and West Coast stores are starting to falter slightly, and the cycle tends to start from the east and head west. “In Hawaii we’re holding strong. Both of our brands are above previous years’ sales.”

He might have little to worry about, since Burger King’s profits have risen 42 percent - to $36 million - from last year’s mark in the summer, the New York Times reported in August. Still, negative sales numbers on the Mainland are keeping Johnson cautious.

“What we’ve found in the past is fast-food restaurants are actually pretty much recession-proof,” says Johnson. “Everybody’s got to eat, and if you can eat for $6, that can usually get anyone by.”

But a slumping market doesn’t keep Johnson from flying all over the Pacific and the Mainland.

“We’re part of the KFC international group where we report to the Singapore office,” he explains. “On the Burger King side, we follow the domestic U.S.”

He says he may be cutting down on travel a bit since ticket prices have gone up.

As far as new products for both restaurants, Johnson is excited about the Zinger, a spicy chicken sandwich coming to KFC.

“It’s done extremely well in Asia, Africa and Australia,” he says. “We will be the first in the U.S. to launch the sandwich.”

He also mentions the Cheesy Bacon Wrap for breakfast and Spicy Chicken Wraps for lunch and dinner as new additions to the BK menu.

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