L&L Hawaiian Barbecue has expanded to Japan, opening today in Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya section.
When the crosswalk light changes near the train station, 1,000 to 2,000 people may be crossing the street, said Eddie Flores, L&L co-founder. "It’s madness."
Speaking of craziness, there’s the matter of real estate in Shibuya.
"It’s impossible to find. … and the rent is very expensive, based on American standards," he said.
Franchisee Ryosuke "Chuck" Mori told Flores other fast-feeders "are paying double what he’s paying."
L&L’s neighbors are the famous Tokyu Hands department store on one side and an Indian curry restaurant on the other.
"What’s good about Shibuya is, it’s 80 percent young people — that’s our demographic," Flores said. There are four McDonald’s restaurants in the area.
During a recent visit to Japan, Mori and his consultant, Stewart Carvalho, took Flores to a Ma-ku-Do-na-ru-do that was serving loco mocos for a monthlong promotion.
"It was really strange," Flores said, but added, "It’s gotta be the No. 1 item on our menu."
L&L’s loco moco is very popular with Japanese visitors to Hawaii, he said. "We’re going to have the best (loco moco). McDonald’s cannot compete."
One L&L signature dish has undergone a name change for the Shibuya menu. There, chicken katsu will be called chicken cutlet.
"There are so many chicken katsu and tonkatsu stores and variations already in Japan, there is no way we can compete with them on making a better katsu," said Mori, a Chaminade graduate. They decided to "distinguish the two literally by calling it a different name and introducing an original L&L flavor."
Because raw ingredients are being sourced in Japan, there will be some differences between the flavors of L&L dishes served there and here, Carvalho said. However, Mori added that the "goal is to keep the original taste and flavor as the Hawaiian L&L restaurants."
There are many Hawaiian restaurants in Japan, but "we feel there are hardly any that really serve authentic Hawaiian food and flavor," he said. "We want to be able to provide that to the Japanese. If they cannot go to Hawaii to experience the flavor, then we will bring it to them."
The eatery also will serve SPAM musubis, something no Hawaii L&L did until recent years, because of the snack’s ubiquitous availability locally.
It will be "pretty new to the people of Tokyo," Mori said. "We think it will be a good change in their perception of SPAM and we expect it to be a top-selling item."
When L&L opened in Alaska, the restaurant sold out of food in five hours, Flores said.
A restaurant with so many thousands of potential customers streaming by each time a train arrives is likely to do even greater volume, especially since those thousands of commuters have seen the restaurant under construction. Flores marvels that it took only two months for the whole process, versus the year that is typical in Hawaii.
The Shibuya L&L has eight full-time and eight part-time employees and because of anticipated crowds, Flores has sent five, rather than the customary two, additional kitchen staffers to help.
Mori and Carvalho "want to prove the success of L&L in Japan for the first year," and then plan to open five more restaurants throughout Japan over the next five years, said Carvalho, originally from Kauai.
"We are committed to bringing the ‘taste of Hawaii’ to the people of Japan."
Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Advertiser. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.