Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Don Ho and Colleen Nomura performed at Don Ho's Island Grill shortly after it opened. The restaurant was sold to Fred Livingston, who also owns Sunset Grill and Matteo's.

Don Ho’s Island
Grill changes hands

Restaurateur Fred Livingston
buys the popular dining spot in
the Aloha Tower Marketplace

By Erika Engle

Longtime Honolulu restaurateur Fred Livingston is buying Don Ho's Island Grill from fellow restaurateur and diversified businessman Shep Gordon -- and will shake the hand of the venue's namesake before news cameras today at Aloha Tower Marketplace.

"He's the royalty," Livingston said, and receives a royalty for the use of his name, which may one day grace multiple franchised locations around the country.

"In trade terminology (Shep) thinks it has legs," he said. "Nobody else in the entertainment industry has that (Hawaii-connected) image."

Neither side will disclose the purchase price, citing a confidentiality agreement.

The decision to sell was a lifestyle choice, Gordon said. "I love Maui and didn't want to travel that much."

Livingston owns Matteo's Italian Restaurant Inc., Trattoria Restaurant, Crouching Lion Inn, Davey Jones Ribs, Sunset Grill and formerly, the once-famous Tahitian Lanai restaurant. He also owns Livingston Galleries Ltd., a retail art gallery.

"We can cross-plug and promote one restaurant at the other," he said. "There are many benefits for a multiplicity of locations."

Corporately, the business is being purchased by Livingston's Honolulu-based F.L. Inc., doing business as Don Ho's Island Grill, from Gordon's Maui-based SG LLC 1.

"I used to buy restaurants, make them profitable and sell them," Livingston said. "Now I make them profitable and keep them."

Livingston plans no staffing changes at Don Ho's. "I have a lot of respect for the current general manager and the current chef," he said, "and a very good young aggressive staff."

He plans a menu expansion and more headlining entertainers to make it more of a showcase.

Both Livingston and Gordon have varied business backgrounds. Livingston has run an ad agency in Chicago, became a land developer on the Big Island and owned KLEI 1130-AM in Kailua.

Gordon is known throughout the entertainment industry for his management work for acts ranging from Alice Cooper to the late Groucho Marx through Alive Enterprises Inc.

He has forged business alliances with various celebrities to launch product lines including Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo tequila, chef Emeril Lagasse for his line of seasonings and Hawaii favorite Roy Yamaguchi for his signature sake.

The "Emeril's Hawaiian Barbecue" show aired on Food Network June 9 was taped several months ago at Gordon's oceanfront home in Kihei.

The inaugural bottle of "Old Whiskey River" bourbon, produced for Gordon's Alive Spirits LLC, was presented to fellow Maui resident Willie Nelson in August.

Guitar picks bearing Nelson's autograph are included with each bottle.

The spirits company is drawing more of Gordon's attention now, as are other projects which will also include film production on Maui.

Presented with a Cannes Film Festival award for his Alive Films 1977 movie, "The Duellists," Gordon also produced "Red Headed Stranger," starring Nelson in the mid-1980s.

Don Ho's opened in late 1998. "I remember how we opened," Gordon said. "It was a beautiful opening."

A fund-raising dinner was staffed by waiters including Cooper, Hagar, Nelson, Albert Finney, Bill Dana and filmmaker Richard Donner.

Livingston takes over operations of Don Ho's Friday, several years after he made a crucial decision while an ad man in Chicago.

"Several of my clients were restaurants," he said. "And I decided I would never own a restaurant. They were so complex, with so many plates spinning at the same time and here I am with six restaurants. I don't even listen to my own advice."

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