mainland meal ticket
The owner of the local-styleBy Russ Lynch
food chain wants to capitalize
on his success in the isles
HONOLULU entrepreneur Eddie Flores is taking his L&L Drive-Inn restaurant concept to the mainland, Spam and rice and all.
He says the first West Coast outlet got such a good reception he's looking to open at least three or four a year. "Five or 10, depending on how fast we can move," Flores said earlier this week. Counting a new one that opened in Kona yesterday, there are 49 L&L's in Hawaii.
"I never had any interest in the mainland," Flores said, but a partner convinced him to take a trip to San Francisco in March to look up a former employee who had opened his own restaurant there.
It had exactly the same menu as the L&L outlets. "It was in the worst location, a really rough area, no parking, but he made enough out of it to open a second restaurant," Flores said.
Flores figured: "If he can do it, I can do it better. I've got the money, I've got the know-how, I've got the credit."
He stayed a few days in the area looking for locations and went to Los Angeles. He found it isn't easy to get into shopping mall locations and grabbed the first one he was offered.
It's near West Covina in a food court in the Puente Hills Mall. The only thing he changed was the name, because he didn't think the mainland audience would connect with L&L Drive-Inn. It became L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.
Its operators are Derryck Tom and his wife Elaine, who own four L&L's in Hawaii. L&L Hawaiian Barbecue is a partnership with Flores as are many of the Hawaii outlets.
In Hawaii, Flores either sold the outlets entirely to employees or went into partnerships with them. Flores' main partnership kept the biggest-volume stores, however.
Opening day a month ago was an eye-opener at the California outlets.
"We opened at 11 a.m. and by 5 p.m. we had to close. We'd run out of food," Flores said.
"We have not changed one item on the menu," he said. "But the Caucasians, who may not be that used to rice, get a choice of french fries or tossed greens. Otherwise it's rice and macaroni just like here."
The biggest seller is a mix of barbecue meats, but another highly popular item in Hawaii, chicken katsu, runs close behind in mainland popularity, Flores said.
"I did a sort of informal survey, asked people what was the thing they liked most, and many of them said the katsu. But they have trouble pronouncing it, so we may change the name to something like Hawaii fried chicken," he said.
"Spam and rice is big. I asked the people, "Are you from Hawaii?' They said, "no, Guam,'" Flores said.
The restaurant, one of 10 outlets in the mall's food court, is popular with Polynesians in the area, some of whom drive for an hour to get there, he said.
The only thing that could slow his expansion on the mainland is the pace at which he can get operators trained to run the restaurants, Flores said. That includes sending cooks over from Hawaii to show them how to prepare the foods.
Flores, who is also involved in real estate management and education, bought the L&L business in Hawaii for his mother in 1976 and took more control in 1991 as the island economy turned sour.