What Makes A Great Eatery

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - July 05, 2006
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(front, from left) Lisa Kim, Troy Terrorotua, Todd and JoJo Rasmussen, (back) Bobby Curran, Vicky Tanabe and Dean Okimoto at Compadres
(front, from left) Lisa Kim, Troy Terrorotua, Todd and JoJo
Rasmussen, (back) Bobby Curran, Vicky Tanabe and Dean
Okimoto at Compadres

One of the reasons I enjoy hosting a weekly radio talk show is not, oddly enough, the talking. It’s the listening. Finding out what other people think about issues related to food and wine is far more interesting to me than talking about my own opinions.

Let’s face it, I already know what I know. So I thought I’d put the same principle into practice in print this week and let other people do the talking. We rounded up a few friends who all have connections in the restaurant industry and met at Compadres for a discussion on what makes a restaurant great.

I posed the question to our group and one answer came back loud and clear.


Vicky Tanabe, account executive with Pint Size Corporation, deals with restaurants - both high end and casual - every day.

“It’s just cut and dried to me,” she says. “If the food is just OK, but the service is great, then I’m going back. But even if the food is fabulous I will not go back if the service is bad.”

Dean Okimoto, president of Nalo Farms, supplier of greens and local produce to hundreds of restaurants, and president of the Farm Bureau, agrees, to a certain extent.

“Service, yeah, it’s important, he says, but to make a restaurant great? It’s gotta be the food. They have to be able to do something spectacular. I’ll go back again and again for a dish I love, even if the service isn’t that great, but I’m not going back for average food.”

He’s in the minority there, though.

Most of the group agreed they wouldn’t go back for great food if the service was bad. JoJo Rasmussen, an account executive at Topics Fish Market, deals with chefs and restaurant managers on a daily basis.

“It’s how I’m treated that matters,” she says. “I don’t mind about the price so much; I just care about how people are reacting to me. To me, the service at places like Big City Diner can be just as good as the service at Michel’s, or Café 100 (on the Big Island) can be as enjoyable as Roy’s - they’re all at different price points, but they all have fabulous service.”

Lisa Kim, owner of LAK Enterprises and the founder of The Garlic Festival of Hawaii, feels differently. “I go for food first. I don’t need it to be that exciting, I just want regular, good food. If I love the food I’m gonna go back - as long as the service isn’t horrible!”

Todd Rasmussen, owner of the Rasmussen Consulting Group, feels that the ambience is a big part of a night out and wishes there were more theme restaurants in Hawaii.

“To me, a lot of it has to do with the essence of the evening,” he says. “I like to go out and have fun. I enjoy theme restaurants, places where you get an experience that’s about more than just the food and the service.”

Ask a chef, though, and you get a a different angle altogether.

Troy Terrorotua is the chef/owner of Troy’s Real Cuisine.

“A great restaurant is the total package - everything - detail, attention being paid, servers who know and understand the menu, waiters who find out your name and use it, it’s all of those things - in addition to great food,” he says. “Valets and hostesses are really important to a great restaurant. They’re the first and last people you see, and they can make or break the evening.”

Bobby Curran, the voice of UH football and basketball (and my husband), usually has the last word on his eponymous early morning radio show, so he can have it here too.

“I want to go to a restaurant where you can perceptively tell that there’s a level of passion in what they do. I don’t care about technical perfection, but I want good value, interesting food and I want to have fresh, local produce. The food doesn’t have to be great - but it has to be good. And there has to be passion.”

Happy eating!

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