Crowds and glitches hit new Liliha Bakery

(Via Star Advertiser)

Liliha Bakery opened on Wednesday at the former Sam Choy’s Breakfast Lunch & Crab restaurant on Nimitz Highway after a series of construction delays.

The maker of the island’s popular coco puffs was originally scheduled to open its second location at 580 N. Nimitz Highway in May, but ran into a number of renovation delays and training issues, according to owner and serial restaurateur Peter Kim.

He was hoping the “soft opening,” which wasn’t advertised, would go under the radar until the restaurant had worked out all the kinks, but that didn’t happen once word got out via social media.

“I wanted to stay very low-profile,” Kim said. “It’s great exposure, but we cannot handle the crowd. Our kitchen is not ready. We’re not 100 percent yet. This dang social media is ruining people’s life,” he jokingly said.

The bakery’s official grand opening, including a blessing, is expected in two weeks, though a definite date has not been set.

Kim, the founder of Yummy Restaurant Group, is duplicating the iconic Liliha Bakery concept as he moves into downtown Hono­lulu, expanding the restaurant side of the business with seven times the number of seats in the dining room.

The new restaurant has 150 seats, compared to only 21 at the original bakery, so naturally the first day of operations didn’t go smoothly, Kim said. The restaurant ran out of food and didn’t have rice when it opened at 6 a.m.

“We forgot to push the button — that’s why I didn’t want to open in a big way,” Kim said, adding that workers also had to remake 100 pounds of hamburger steak by hand to get the recipe straight. “No rice in a restaurant in Hawaii, you got a problem.”

The company has hired about 85 workers, many of whom have been training for the past six weeks at the Liliha location, which has roughly 65 employees, he said.

Kim bought the original 1950 bakery at 515 N. Kuakini St. in 2008 with plans to open at least two more shops in Honolulu, followed by others on the neighbor islands. He has been searching for a site for a third location in Pearl City or West Oahu.

The Nimitz restaurant will take advantage of more efficient bakery equipment that will allow him to run the restaurant with fewer employees per seat, Kim said. He would not disclose investment costs or projected revenue.

Kim said he anticipated there would be a lot of issues to work through, but thought he’d start off slow and make adjustments as needed until a lunch crowd of about 150 people showed up seemingly all at once.

“We made so many mistakes. I don’t want unhappy customers,” Kim said. “I don’t want to hurt their expectations because Liliha Bakery (has) such a good name value and this is a landmark. I don’t want to disappoint people. We just got to make it happen. We’re just going to go for it and hope everything falls into place.”

Kim owns about 25 restaurants and is affiliated with more owned by family members. His eateries include Yummy Korean BBQ, Lahaina Chicken Co., Mama’s Spaghetti House, Cheeseburger Factory, Steak & Fish Co., KFC, Subway and his most recent venture, Signature Prime Steak & Seafood restaurant atop the Ala Moana Hotel.

CORRECTION: The original location of Liliha Bakery is in Liliha. An earlier version of this story and the story in the print edition said it was in Kalihi.

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