Restaurant expansion to Hawaii is challenging

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Sonic Drive-in. Chick-fil-A.

They’ve said they’re coming to Hawaii — but when?

It was 3 years ago that an announcement was made that Sonic was coming to Hawaii. Former NFL player Ma’ake Kemoeatu was cited as the franchisee, but now Kemoeatu’s spokesman says he is removed from the process.

According to officials at Sonic, Hawaii is still in its future, saying in a statement:

“We look forward to bringing Sonic’s signature, personalized experience to communities in Hawaii and will provide additional information as we near the grand opening.”

Victor Lim, a McDonald’s of Hawaii franchisee, says he is familiar with such announcements.

“Many times people say, ‘Oh yeah you know I’m going to be in Hawaii. Within the next four years I’m going to open 25 restaurants.’ I’ve seen a lot of companies make that statement. And then once they come in, or they try to come in, then it becomes a crawl, just overcoming all these different logistics becomes very very difficult.”

Restaurateurs we spoke with say the biggest challenge, is real estate — finding great locations.

Another challenge is getting food and other supplies here across the ocean — and the costs involved.

Some chains have left Hawaii, such as the parent company of Palomino, Kincaid’s and more recently, Ryan’s.

Others, such as Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen and others, do so well in the islands that their Hawaii locations are the top money-makers in their companies.

Michael Miller is operations director at Tiki’s Grill & Bar in Waikiki — near some of those top-producing restaurants. 

“I really think it’s just about taking care of the guests. So if they can take care of the guests, they can give a level of value, the local people will come back time and time again and those are the places that continue to succeed in Hawaii.”

As for Chick-fil-A, the Georgia-based, family owned chicken sandwich chain announced plans to expand to Hawaii in the summer. The company says it is still on track, but did not disclose a location or a possible opening date — we will keep you posted.

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