What was the most surprising thing you discovered?
The most surprising thing I discovered was the difficulty in getting real estate. It’s a competitive market and certain times a desirable location is out of reach. You need to be prepared to have a plan B, C, and probably D to counter what you thought you’d get. It’s been very interesting though, and helped me become a savvier businessman. I’ve learned a lot through the process and have enjoyed adapting a new skillset.
How has your day to day changed from those first months to now?
As previously mentioned, when I started—Ono consumed me. Over time, I learned to have a healthier work-life balance that now allows me to spend time with my family and have a life outside of the business. I still oversee a lot, but with a dedicated and passionate team behind me that I trust, it has made it easier to delegate leadership and decision making elsewhere.
How has the concept evolved over the years? In what ways has it changed. In what ways has it remained the same.
The biggest thing that has changed over the course of the last 15-plus years is the menu. Our original menu was extensive. I learned though that simply doing what you do best is the key to success at a restaurant. Instead of trying to be good at everything—stick to what you know, and perfect it. We scaled back a lot and cut the menu down to those items we were passionate about, and know we deliver well. It was more on the traditional side of Hawaiian fare—things like Hawaiian BBQ Chicken, katsu, musubi, etc.—and I believe a major component of today’s success.
Things that have remained the same are our dedication to quality and freshness. Much of our recipes are proprietary and created in-house, as are our sauces and marinades. Everything is made-to-order and since day 1—we have not strayed from these values.
What does the future look like for Ono? What kind of growth is on the table?
Ono’s immediate future involves expansion within California and Arizona. We’re moving towards the central area of the state, and entering markets like Bakersfield, Modesto, etc. From there, we’ll continue to grow within Northern California and Phoenix as well—with those markets being the priority. As far as the next five years, if it’s a fit we may be willing to expand into additional territories or states. But only if it makes sense and the demand is there.