An owner of iconic
restaurant to retire

David Allaire, a partner and senior vice president of Hawaii operations for T S Restaurants, will retire at the end of the year. Though he's had inquiries, Allaire said he's not looking at opening his own restaurant.

David Allaire

» Retiring at end of the month as senior vice president of Hawaii operations for T S Restaurants, owner of 12 restaurants, including the iconic Duke's Canoe Club Waikiki. Allaire will remain a partner in the company, which has seven restaurants in Hawaii and five Duke's restaurants in California, and will serve as a consultant.
» He has been with the company since it started in 1977, or about half his life. T S Restaurants has grown to 1,150 employees in Hawaii and combined total revenue approaching $90 million. It has restaurants on Maui, Kauai and Oahu.
» Age: 56. He has worked in the restaurant industry since the early 1970s, after graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Allaire became senior vice president after company co-founder Rob Thibaut died in 1998.

T S Restaurants opened a new spot this year above the Duke's in Waikiki, called Hula Grill Waikiki. Has opening restaurants gotten any easier after having done it several times?

Birthing a new restaurant is always a challenge from getting the lease started, going through construction phase and then hiring managers and crew. It is always going to be a challenge because you want to staff your restaurant correctly and you want to have a correct site and a beautiful building on that site. It is easier now, because we have a book, so to speak, on how to open restaurants.

How is Hula Grill doing?

It is beating all sales projections. We set pretty high standards.

We make it challenging, but realistic the first year or so. We should know exactly what we're doing when we open the door from the day one, and we basically do, but we should also do what the market wants. And we do.

A lot of the restaurants start out very well and we find the extra ingredients that will help us have rapid growth.

Downstairs, Duke's Waikiki is iconic in Hawaii.

I thought we could just have Duke's restaurant overflow.

We've just kind of made adjustments to Duke's to accommodate crowds and things. There's such a dramatic sense of place in Waikiki, Duke Kahanamoku, if we stayed true to that we knew we'd have a winner. You reflect that in your menu, architecture, decor. If all that doesn't work, we have a great view and really great prices.

What lessons have you learned from 28 years at the company?

Get a good game plan and stick to your plan. Stay on budget.

Is that easier said than done?

It always is, especially in Hawaii. You have to make choices. You have to favor the experience of the customer over the efficiency of the house. It enhances the customer experience, the guest experience. Having said that we always go with things that are easy to work in for our employees. You have to spend more dollars on the front of the house than the back of the house.

How do you keep employees happy?

Our employees are happy because we treat them with respect. We honor them as people and we are encouraging to them and offer them a really fun and actually profitable place to work. Jobs are sought out here more than others because we are consistently busier. We also give them good benefits.

Any consequences of size?

There's a benefit of economies of scale in our buying power. We're well known. We pay our bills right on time -- that usually gets us a little extra service. We also get great relationships with all purveyors and suppliers.

What kept you with the same company for so long?

The "T" in "T S," Rob Thibaut, was a great friend of mine and college fraternity brother. We had a strong personal bond.

We invited more friends. Dick Moon, vice president of operations, is also a fraternity brother. We had a close personal tie.

We all had the same values and goals.

And what are those goals?

If we were going to be in the restaurant business, we wanted to provide the absolute best experience for our guests as well as our employees. It's very rewarding to employ a number of people who have become our partners.

We're a very close-knit team. We have 98 managers in Hawaii. We work very closely with each other and it's a lot of fun.

Any thoughts on starting your own restaurant?

Oh, I always harbor a few of those thoughts in the back of my mind and that may come around again, but it's not like I wasn't an owner already. I would entertain it if the absolute right thing came up. I'm not looking at anything actively right now. It is kind of flattering that a few people are calling.

What is the total revenue projected for this year for T S? Profitability?

We're over $80 million, combined. Hawaii gets the majority of those sales. I would say our bottom lines meet or beat certainly. We're very successful and our percentage of profit is always in the 15 percent range for the restaurants. The industry average is about 5 percent.

Are the Hawaii restaurants directly benefiting from the tourism recovery? What happened during the downturns?

The recovery has been fantastic on all the islands we are on. We are kind of the beneficiary of this world tumult. Hawaii is perceived as safer, out of the trouble zone. People are deciding not to travel internationally.

The dynamic is that, yeah, there's fewer people at certain times. Being in our location and an established company, the restaurants are going to make it in the more down economic times.

People will always afford themselves a little night on the town. They might not buy the new car, new fridge, but they'd like to go out and have dinner. We really appeal to that. We're in a position to maintain in the flat spots.

Inside Hawaii Inc. is a weekly conversation with business and community leaders. Suggestions can be sent to business@starbulletin.com.

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