Bidding war for Poi’pu restaurant shows strength of island economy

POI’PU – What a sweet spot for a building owner to find himself in.

Even on the bustling South Shore, with a prime location along the main drag and in the middle of one of the most popular resort complexes, for a building owner to have five groups of restaurateurs bidding for his available space must be something of a dream come true.

But that’s what happened here, after House of Seafood closed its doors last fall after several years in business.

The Poipu Kai building owner put the space out for bid, and five groups put in offers to take over the restaurant. To get that kind of response in an industry notorious for high failure rates and the stiffest of competition is testament to the strength of the region and island’s economy.

A trio of long-time island restaurateurs collectively known as Holomua Enterprises, LLC (Limited Liability Company) put in a bid, with no clear clue they would be successful bidders.

But Rand Olsen, Gary Yates and Dan O’Connell got the call, and started the frantic race to open Po’ipu Beach Broiler before the busy holiday and second-peak winter visitor season came upon them.

“We knew we wanted to open a restaurant. We just didn’t know where,” said O’Connell, telling of the golf-course dialogue where the trio decided it was time to go to work for themselves, instead of working for other restaurant owners.

They looked at several sites, put together a business plan, and soon found themselves owners and operators of a new restaurant.

Olsen is a certified public accountant and keeps track of the money. O’Connell handles sales and marketing, and Yates is in charge of operations.

“We know the industry. We know what the market will bear,” said O’Connell.

They had investors lined up before the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and some of them stuck around to get in on the action of the new restaurant, which opened for business in early November.

But getting to that point was a challenge, the trio said of conducting 90 interviews in three days to find the opening staff of 53 people.

Key hires included Tonya Gwin, manager, who had worked at Joe’s on the Green at Kiahuna Golf Course, and managed Pizzetta in Old Koloa Town before joining Po’ipu Beach Broiler.

John Schupbach, the eatery’s young chef, came from Gaylord’s Restaurant at Kilohana in Puhi, and was just the energetic, creative sous chef looking to make his own mark the partners were looking for, they said.

Formerly with the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa and Roy’s Poipu Bar and Grill at Poipu Shopping Village, newlywed Schupbach was given creative freedom to design a menu that doesn’t have a single dish over $20, including dinner combination entrees.

The eatery specializes in steak and seafood, and has a salad and sandwich bar that is affordable and popular with those who need to take lunch on the run, the partners said.

It is the combination of superior service, “price points,” and the newness of the business, Yates said, that has led Po’ipu Beach Broiler to a fast start that has continued even through a December that saw island hotel occupancy rates around 50 percent.

Business has been “way above projections,” which has left the partners “pleasantly surprised” and happy with the way their young staff handled the initial onslaught.

It is the partners’ intent to have more resident than visitor business, and already some residents find themselves dining at Po’ipu Beach Broiler several times a week because of the affordable menu.

“We want to be a local place,” O’Connell said.

The new interior was designed by Design 2000 at Kilohana, and the partners hope Po’ipu Beach Broiler is the first of many restaurants and retail outlets the company will manage.

Beginning today, Sunday, Feb. 2, Po’ipu Beach Broiler launches regular Sunday brunch, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., after a successful New Year’s Day brunch convinced them to open early each Sunday.

Currently open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, the restaurant and bar have a happy hour from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The partners plan to manage various restaurants and retail establishments, and won’t rule out offers from other islands. Just don’t expect them to move. “We love Kaua’i. Kaua’i is our home,” O’Connell said.

But “holomua” is the Hawaiian word meaning “improvement” or “progress,” and the company was formed to be a restaurant-management company, so don’t expect the partners to stand pat.

Having three people manage one restaurant, though, leads to inevitable conflicts. But it is the bouncing of ideas off of each other, and resolution of those conflicts, that makes them successful, Olsen says.

By the way, the trio of former single-digit-handicap golfers who had put away their clubs to open a restaurant have now returned to the links. The scores are coming down again, they said with sly smiles.

For more information on Po’ipu Beach Broiler, please call 742-6433.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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