Windward IHOP finally opens, after a 3-year wait
SLIGHTLY more than three years after the first inkling that IHOP would come to Oahu, the second store has opened.
The Windward Mall location was to have been the first, but a confluence of factors saw another franchisee open a Waikiki location and plan a Hilo store first.
A line of customers was ready to come in from the Kaneohe cold when the doors opened at 6 a.m. yesterday.
The flow of customers was steady, though some had to wait an hour.
Franchisee Sarah Espino was relieved to hear, repeatedly, that the wait "was worth it," she said. Diners' options included classic IHOP dishes and such local favorites as a Loco Moco, or a side of Portuguese sausage.
Espino greeted customers outside and inside, helped in the kitchen, hosted local dignitaries, coordinated details with staff and probably ran the equivalent of a marathon within the 5,400-square-foot restaurant before lunch.
"It's her passion," said Vince Espino, Sarah's husband and chief executive officer of Union MAK Corp., owner of the Waikiki, Windward and soon-to-open Hilo stores, so far.
The company will open at least three more in the islands.
Despite Hawaii's low unemployment rate, the Espinos have had no trouble hiring for either store, she said.
Word gets around about good companies to work for, observed Ernest Watari, chairman and chief executive officer of Resort Services LLC, who has consulted Union MAK.
As if a grand opening weren't enough to stress about, yesterday's event was also attended by Julia Stewart, chairman and CEO of IHOP Corp.; Patrick Lenow, director of public relations and communications and a couple of IHOP's 20 top-performing general managers.
The GMs have spent four days in Hawaii as a reward for achieving the highest customer service scores in IHOP's mystery shopper program.
At least two GMs rewarded employees with this trip to Hawaii for contributions to their stores' high scores. They go back to what Stewart calls "the real world," today.
The Windward Mall store reflects IHOP's new interior design, intended to be as conducive to lunch and dinner dining as it is for breakfast, Stewart said. Each of IHOP's more than 1,300 stores will convert to the design as part of its five-year remodeling cycle.
The warm earth-tones and fabric backing on the booths, to name two design elements, run counter to the stark white linoleum and bright fluorescent lighting of the stereotypical breakfast-diner ambiance.
The look was accomplished after two years of research, development and testing at franchisee locations, with input from franchisees and guests and was not merely consultant-driven, she said.
Stewart sees dinnertime as one of many growth areas for IHOP, as the company looks at increasing the ways that "guests can access the brand." It's always "guests," never customers, she said.
The company plans to enter the retail sector with signature products and is looking at expansion into airports and international markets.
IHOP will soon begin a national advertising campaign to publicize its new to-go program, which is in keeping with an industry trend.
Proving the point, the Hawaii Restaurant Association will host a seminar tomorrow at which a speaker will detail how many restaurants have expanded take-out revenue to 20 percent of their business.
This is not the first time IHOP has rewarded employees with Hawaii travel, and it won't be the last.
The first Hawaii incentive meeting was four years ago and as this year, they stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. IHOP GMs have also traveled to Cancun and Puerto Rico, but for the company's 50th anniversary celebration in August of next year, Stewart, 400 IHOP franchisees and their spouses, will return to Hawaii.
"It was the number-one choice," of the franchisees, she said.
Neither Stewart nor Lenow would divulge the hotels that are on the short list of accommodations under consideration, but agree the Royal Hawaiian has set a high bar for the level of service they will be expecting.
The gamut of employees, including the housekeeping staff, has extended aloha to members of the IHOP group, Stewart said. That is the observation she will take back to the 'real world' work with her, she said.
"I think it's that genuine spirit, it's real, it's interested."
It is what guests deserve whether they are being served at IHOP -- or being thanked by IHOP for a job well done, she said.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, 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