Yamaguchi’s restaurant empire continues to expand.

Bigger is better, at least in Roy Yamaguchi’s case. He has a new restaurant, Eating House 1849 by Roy Yamaguchi, that at press time was scheduled to open this spring at The Shops at KukuiÊ»ula on KauaÊ»i; followed by the opening of another Roy’s restaurant in Okinawa in April.

“For Eating House 1849, we’re going to have Filipino and Portuguese influence on current Roy’s food,” the famed chef explains. “The theory behind that restaurant is there was a gentleman by the name of Peter Fernandez who apparently opened the first restaurant on OÊ»ahu in 1849 somewhere in the area of Chinatown and the restaurant was called Eating House, so it’s a tribute to him.”

Yamaguchi also is working on introducing more items to add to his growing line of products, such as his salad dressings that were in rotation at Costco, and convenient stir-fry kits, which he launched last November and are sold in about 200 Wal-Marts across the country. He also has partnered with chef Antonio Tommasi to open a Maccheroni Republic in Hawaiʻi, hopefully in July.

“Antonio has a restaurant in Los Angeles that is named one of the best Italian restaurants in L.A.,” says Yamaguchi.

“So, I’m teaming up with him and his partner Jean-Louis de Mori to open a Maccheroni Republic in HawaiÊ»i. It’s true Italian, not fake Italian.”

It’s sure hard to keep count, but there are about 29 Roy’s restaurants around the world today. Yamaguchi is based in HawaiÊ»i with his office located at his original HawaiÊ»i Kai restaurant, but he tries to visit all of his restaurants and even gets behind the kitchen when he can.

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“My goal has always been the same, which is to be able to provide an environment where we can really give quality service to each and every individual that comes to our restaurant and to take care of them so they want to come back,” he says.

“The number of restaurants wasn’t really something that I had in mind because ultimately it’s all about taking care of each guest, but somehow things worked out and we have what we have today.

“My thoughts even as I sit here today aren’t about how many more restaurants can we create or can I create a new concept. It’s still what can we do to make each guest’s experience better at Roy’s.”

Yamaguchi was born in Tokyo, Japan, graduated from Culinary Institute of America in New York and opened a restaurant called 385 North in Hollywood before moving to Honolulu in 1987.

He says he chose Hawai‘i because his father was born and raised on Maui and they spent many summers here. Also, a cousin who lives in Portlock, persuaded Yamaguchi to check out an empty two-story office building on KalanianaÊ»ole Highway across from Maunalua Bay in HawaiÊ»i Kai. Sure enough, it became Roy’s in December 1988 and has since become an East OÊ»ahu landmark.

Famous for its creative, internationally influenced, Hawai‘i-inspired menu; Roy’s also is known for its exceptional service and casual atmosphere. While the restaurant’s menu is continually evolving, many original dishes from the very beginning are still there, such as Hot Iron Seared Misoyaki Butterfish, Hibachi Style Grilled Salmon, Honey Mustard Grilled Beef Short Ribs and Kiawe Smoked Szechuan Baby Back Pork Ribs.

“I’ve been very fortunate that, especially in HawaiÊ»i, the chefs we have today are chefs that have been in our system for a long time,” notes Yamaguchi. “The future of Roy’s is to continually build on what we’ve built thus far and improving on it. That’s the most important thing. To create better ways of how we can take care of our guests and to make sure we can continually serve them and to give them a great dining experience.”

“So we’re always finding ways we can execute our food better. We’re constantly working on new dishes. I spend a lot of my time not on creating new restaurants, but on trying to figure out how I can make Roy’s better.”

During a recent visit to Roy’s HawaiÊ»i Kai, corporate sous chef Garrett Mukogawa shared with us some of the new dishes that may be added to the menu. There’s Compressed Asian Pears with simple syrup, Grand Marnier and Riesling, that is then compressed in a vacuum seal for a candy sugar effect, and served with Big Island feta, natural honeycomb, radish and homemade pistachio brittle. Also, Kampachi Crudo with grapefruit, lychee pearls, pickled jalapeños, whole farm cherry heirloom tomatoes and Big Island hearts of palms.

“We use a lot of classic French techniques and fuse a lot of modern techniques,” says Mukogawa. “And we try to use a lot of local ingredients, such as Hawaiian kampachi, meats from Kulana Foods and HawaiÊ»i ranchers, Big Island hearts of palm, and Hawaii Island Goat Dairy goat cheese, feta, mozzarella and ash crottin aged cheese.”

Yamaguchi owns and operates all the Hawai‘i locations—HawaiÊ»i Kai, Waikiki, KaÊ»anapali, Waikoloa, Ko Olina and PoÊ»ipu. The Roy’s franchise chain on the mainland was sold to the Applebee’s franchisee last year.

“When I first put Roy’s together, how it happened is I was watching “Cheers” and I was watching those guys sit at the bar and drink and talk,” recalls Yamaguchi. “Everybody’s having a great time, and that’s when I said ‘that’s what I want Roy’s to be.’ I want Roy’s to be a place where people can hang out, have fun, talk with the staff and be in a community where everybody cares about each other.”

“This is a neighborhood restaurant. Even though we’re known worldwide, I’m proud I’m representing HawaiÊ»i Kai first and foremost. This is my life and I’m happy to be able to share it with all these people.”

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Photos courtesy Roy’s