From The Hart

Motocross legend Carey Hart expands his famous Las Vegas tattoo shop to Waikiki with the help of a local attorney

Steve Murray
Friday - January 19, 2007
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Jack Omoto tattoos an Urayoan on fellow H&H artist Jonathan Montalbo. Urayoan is the god of the sun for the Taino Indians of Puerto Rico
Jack Omoto tattoos an Urayoan on fellow
H&H artist Jonathan Montalbo. Urayoan is
the god of the sun for the Taino Indians
of Puerto Rico

Opening a new business is a serious endeavor that takes careful planning, a solid business plan and, of course, a healthy dose of alcohol.

“It started with a drunken conversation one night with me and a buddy of mine,” says freestyle motocross legend Carey Hart, who opened Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas in 2004. “I had just moved back to Vegas, and there was no place where I really liked to hang out and get tattooed.”

So, buoyed up with spirits and a determination that made him one of the most famous motocross stars in the world, Hart met with casino owner George Maloof, whom he sold on the idea of opening an upscale tattoo shop for the glimmering hotel that served as the site of MTV’s Real World. Whether it was their basic friendship or Hart’s daredevil flamboyance which is always a hot commodity in Sin City, Maloof gave the project his full support, figuring, no doubt, that Hart’s friendship with athletes, actors and musicians would bring attention and glamour to his business.

“I had the green light to do anything I wanted. I wanted something upscale, something classier. Nine out of 10 tattoo shops are all the same, a basic interior, bright lights and some grumpy guy at the counter who doesn’t want to talk to you. We get a lot of first-timers. People who wouldn’t walk into a traditional tattoo shop will feel comfortable coming in here,” says Hart, whose shops are characterized by warm colors, art and cozy furniture.

Former UH football star Leonard Peters is a longtime customer of Omoto’s
Former UH football star Leonard Peters is a longtime
customer of Omoto’s

A month after that meeting with Maloof, Hart and Las Vegas club promoter John Huntington, who Hart later bought out of the company, opened the first shop in what has now become a brand that includes apparel, television and, of course, tattoo parlors in Vegas, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, soon in Orlando, Fla., and as of November, at the entrance of the International Marketplace on Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki.

“Hawaii just made sense,” says Hart. “It’s a year-round tourist destination for people all over world, from the U.S., Australia, Japan.”

While tattooing in Hawaii enjoys a long and privileged history, and has had a reawakening as a symbol of cultural pride, H&H wants to embrace local styles while at the same time keeping true to its roots.

“At the end of the day, I totally appreciate the culture of Hawaii, and luckily we have some great Polynesian tattoo artists in the shop,” he says. “But we are bringing H&H to Hawaii. It’s the same vibe, the same feel you get whether you’re in Vegas, Cabo or wherever.”

Though staying true to the company style, Waianae tattoo artist Jack Omoto says a strong local touch was paramount to even getting started.

“Carey said if not for a certain level of local talent, he would not open the store,” says the H&H staff member and 14-year veteran of the business.

While ownership hopes the rich colored interior and service may separate the shop from other such businesses, nothing probably stands out more than its business manager, Jared Kawashima. Looking a bit out of place among the black T-shirts and pierced and tattooed staff, Kawashima looks to be more at home in a law office than in a tattoo parlor. For good reason - Kawashima is a lawyer. So is his wife Ellen.

“I was on a business trip to Vegas and I wanted to get a tattoo, so I made plans to go to Hart & Huntington,” says Kawashima, a partner in the law firm of Ning, Lilly & Jones who until now has kept his mon - a Japanese family crest - secret from his mother and in-laws. “While getting tattooed I was talking to the artist about the shop that was to open in Florida. They were running that in the first series of Inked (the cable TV show about tats). I asked about the Florida shop and was told it fell through. An idea popped in my head of trying to get it into Hawaii. I came back to Hawaii, got in touch with Carey’s agent and started from there.”

Once back home, it took about a year to get the shop going, which celebrated its official opening Jan. 18 with Hart coming into town to meet fans and customers, along with some of the artists made famous by the A&E reality show such as Clark, Lacy, Joshua, Joey, and even shop apprentice and staff punching bag Dizzle.

Though the accountants won’t allow him to talk in specific terms, opening the 2,000-square-foot shop took an investment of “well over $100,000.”

“It’s a real investment and we’re all committed to the shop,” Kawashima says.

While expanding H&H to other vacation spots had been the idea from the beginning, the idea is not to become the Starbucks of tattoos. The goal, based around the tattoo industry, is to create a

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