Waikiki restaurant takes whole new approach to attracting visitors
SUBSCRIBER CONTENT: May 8, 2015, 12:00am HST
Tina Yuen PBN
Taku Teramoto, vice president and general manager of Crackin’ Kitchen
Reporter- Pacific Business News
When he first came on board in December as the general manager of the Blue Marlin Restaurant in the bustling tourist mecca of Waikiki, Taku Teramoto said he knew some serious
changes needed to be made.
Though the restaurant’s primary focus was seafood, something that is commonly sought after by visitors, he saw little else that attracted tourists to the 5,500-square-foot dining space on the ground floor of the Marine Surf Waikiki, where Matteo’s Italian Restaurant previously attracted residents and visitors alike through several ownership changes.
“Basically, when I came in, the concept itself was seafood, but it was scattered all over the place — we were doing sushi, poke bowls, loco moco and other local food,” Teramoto said during a sit-down interview with PBN. “The concept wasn’t there.”
So, Teramoto revamped the restaurant’s lunch menu and cut sushi, loco moco and anything else that, he said, “would keep us off track from our concept.”
“Since our concept was seafood, we wanted to bring people American seafood,” he said.
That’s when discussions of a complete turnaround arose — a new restaurant is what the New Jersey-born and Japan-educated manager pitched to his bosses at Tori Doll Dining, which operates the Marukame Udon restaurant chain in Hawaii and Japan.
“We started talking about this and decided that we should definitely keep it because we are in Waikiki,” Teramoto said. “When tourists come to Hawaii, the first thing they think is, ‘OK, we came to Hawaii, so what do you want to eat? I want to eat seafood.’ This is the mentality that a lot of people have.”
With that in mind, they came up with a cajun menu and renovated the entire restaurant, which is now called Crackin’ Kitchen — all within five months.
“It wasn’t a little quick,” Teramoto said with a laugh. “It was really quick to the point where everything was happening at the last minute.”
To find out how it all came together within that short amount of time, PBN sat down with Teramoto to talk about the challenges of doing it all and how they tried to make their restaurant stand out.
Why didn’t the concept of having certain well-known and familiar items on the menu like loco moco work here in the beginning? I’m not going to lie; there were some people who were coming back — a lot of people were coming and saying the food was good. But we’re in Waikiki and we have a lot of tourists — Mainland, Japanese, Korean, and every other kind of ethnicity and nationality. When they come to Hawaii, people are going to eat out, and when people see us, they’ll come, but I guess there was nothing that stood out.
Yes, the food was good. Of course the food is good because we’re a restaurant — that’s how I think. But there’s a thing called Hawaiian magic. When they come to Hawaii, the food that tastes good will taste great to tourists, but I guess there was nothing that stood out. That’s why you either have to be a really big chain like Marukame Udon, or it has to be very unique, and that’s where we’re coming from.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced? The most challenging part was dealing with vendors because of speed. When you do a transition this fast, it’s difficult enough to do it on the Mainland, but on the Mainland, where I come from, the idea is, ‘If you’re not going to work, fine, I’m going to look for another vendor because there are so many other companies who have so much to offer.’ I’m a tough guy and I’m very direct, too, and when I need to get things done, it has to be done fast.
This was a challenge for me because how you deal with people is totally different here. There’s so many things that I have no clue about here, and it’s a bit of a mixed culture — it has a little bit of an Asian essence in it, plus some things work like how they do in the U.S. where it’s very strict. It’s just a different world for me.