Kailua boy is coming home again
THE first thing Steele Platt remembers eating in Hawaii was prime rib at Chuck's in Waikiki, sitting next to his dad. That was in 1967.
Next year, he plans to open another in his chain of Yard House restaurants on Lewers Street, near the former Chuck's location, in the Outrigger Waikiki Beachwalk project.
"I'm about to sign (the lease). I'm excited. The deal points are negotiated," he said.
"We'll be toward the end on the right, next to Roy's and below Ruth's Chris Steak House ... on the ground floor," where the Yard House will occupy 11,500 square feet for its daily lunch, dinner and late-night service.
Platt turned down a space at Ala Moana Center, where restaurants such as California Pizza Kitchen are among the top revenue-generators in their chains. The space was on the third floor facing the parking lot and didn't fit what he wanted.
Yard House USA LLC is a 12-restaurant chain with locations in California, Arizona, Colorado and Florida. It plans to expand to 19 locations by the end of next year.
It's a casual restaurant, serving what it calls American fusion fare, and specializing in beers. Lots of beers. The various locations have from 130 to 250 taps, to which brews are delivered via 3 to 5 miles of overhead stainless steel conduits.
The Yard House name springs from Colonial times when beer was served to weary stagecoach drivers -- in glasses that were 36 inches tall. The restaurant serves its brews in slightly smaller vessels.
The more than 100 menu items range from California roll sushi to turkey pot pie developed by chef and partner Carlito Jocson.
Video screens will display sports, and the musical vibe is predominantly classic rock from a 5,000 CD library.
On Sundays in Hawaii, however, the music will be both classic Hawaiian and contemporary Hawaiian from the '60s and '70s.
It will be the music Platt remembers from growing up on Oahu, attending Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary, Aikahi Elementary, Kalaheo -- when it was an intermediate school -- and Our Redeemer Lutheran School, which he graduated from in 1977.
"Pure Hawaiian Sundays" will showcase artists such as C&K, Kalapana, the Makaha Sons of Niihau, Gabby Pahinui and Emma Veary. He just couldn't envision sitting on the beach at sunset, looking at Diamond Head and "listening to Sinatra."
Not that there would be anything wrong with that, it's just not his vision.
The first Yard House opened in 1996 in Long Beach, Calif., but that was not Platt's first restaurant.
Kailua's at the Tivoli in Denver was opened in 1985 when he was 25 years old, with money from his late father, "Whitey," and an investor.
"I had my first big restaurant plan, I gave it to the landlord, he loved it and gave me $1.7 million," Platt said.
Platt had to teach people how to pronounce "Kailua's," but they otherwise got and supported the restaurant concept that offered 28 stir-fry dishes and many other flavors he had grown up with in Hawaii.
On the inside he created a sunset with lighting, and there were TV monitors "of home video of people walking by you in Waikiki. It was sort of a window to Hawaii in Denver." It was quite effective when patrons had come into the restaurant from the 20-degree Colorado winter, he said.
Two years later, he opened The Boiler Room, a precursor to the Yard House, which had 20 beers on tap.
He walked away from the restaurants in a dispute with the landlord, eventually ran through his money and found what would be the first Yard House location in Long Beach. He rounded up investors and last year the privately held company reported more than $78 million in sales. Platt projects $110 million for 2006 and more than $200 million for next year.
"The biggest thing that makes me happy is, for whatever it's worth to Hawaii, this is like, my full circle for my life, and I have the honor of coming back and doing something for Hawaii," he said. That will include helping a nonprofit organization focused on perpetuating respect for Hawaiian culture and history.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: email@example.com