Jump to content


Welcome to the eG Forums!

These forums are a service of the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to advancement of the culinary arts. Anyone can read the forums, however if you would like to participate in active discussions please join the Society.

Photo

Hawaii Plate Lunch getting big on the mainland?


  • Please log in to reply
28 replies to this topic

#1 skchai

skchai
  • participating member
  • 1,038 posts
  • Location:Honolulu, Hawai`i

Posted 13 December 2004 - 07:02 PM

Interesting article from the LA Times:

Hawaiian Food's New Mainland Fan Base by Julie Tamaki (may need to register)

The article implies that Hawai'i's fast food, led by the L&L juggernaut may be the next big American fast food phenomenon. It cites the 100+ Hawai'i-style plate lunch places that have popped up in California and elsewhere in the Western part of the mainland as evidence.

However, there is a caveat, which is that:

"These restaurants seem to work in niche neighborhoods where they have an ethnic following, but some… seem to have a tough time outside of these core areas," said Randall Hiatt, president of Fessel International, a Costa Mesa-based restaurant consulting firm.


Can anyone who's frequented plate lunch establishments on the mainland, explain more precisely what this "ethnic following" might refer to? Hawai`i expatriates? Asian-Americans? Something else? Anyone want to take a stab at this?

Another somewhat controversial point in the article is its implication that Eddie Flores (L&L CEO) is labeling other Hawai`i plate lunch competitors on the West Coast "copycats", though the quote is ambigous on whether he explicitly said such a thing:

And those core markets have been hit by a tsunami of copycats, which Flores described as "frustrating."


L&L did not invent the plate lunch concept, which after all has existed for generations. So what exactly constitutes a copycat? Anyone who tries to sell plate lunch on the mainland? Or are there places that are actually trying to pass themselves off as L&Ls?

West Coast people, can you give us the real deal on all this?

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#2 Chris Cognac

Chris Cognac
  • participating member
  • 1,616 posts
  • Location:Los Angeles

Posted 13 December 2004 - 07:47 PM

L&L is average at best when compared to family run place like TnT cafe, Gardena Bowling Alley, Bruddah's and Bob's Ohana....its like the McDonalds of Aloha style food....it will do in a pinch, but only then.....but then again I live right next to the border of Gardena and have a multitude of places to choose from.
Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!
The Hungry Detective

#3 jschyun

jschyun
  • participating member
  • 1,552 posts

Posted 13 December 2004 - 09:09 PM

From the article, I would venture a guess that "ethnic following" means Asians, esp hungry second gen Asian kids who seem to love this place. But I think the idea that the plate lunch concept will die outside the "niche neighborhoods" (whatever they really mean by that) is not an opinion I would agree with. Basicallly, if they go to every university town and plant themselves a store or two in each one, I thhink they'll do great!

I have to admit that I think some peple may find the idea of a mac salad and rice with grilled beef kind of a weird combo , frankly, they'll get over it once they try it. I think.

I think the main reason why L&L would fail would be lack of advertising. The reason Californians know about it is because they've been to the islands, but not everyone in the U.S. is so lucky to have access to those cheap fares from OAK or LAX. So they really have to get the word out. With the right ad campaign, I fully expect L&L to take off big time. As it is now, I feel it will remain a "niche" fast food joint unless something changes.

Personally, I think the L&L's that I've been to here in SoCal have been pretty good. The one near my house in Irvine, CA is actually the best I've had so far. We have the right demographic: tons of Asian students. I have tried several things on the menu, and I must say, the chicken katsu with a side of mac salad is still my favorite. The chicken is fresh out of the fryer, crispy crunch coating with moist breast meat inside.

As far as copycats are concerned, I suspect that they mean "non-Hawaiians" who are pushing the plate lunch concept. I guess I understand this sentiment.
I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
--NeroW

#4 melonpan

melonpan
  • participating member
  • 753 posts

Posted 14 December 2004 - 01:25 AM

I have to admit that I think some peple may find the idea of a mac salad and rice with grilled beef kind of a weird combo , frankly, they'll get over it once they try it.  I think.

i think a lot of people have a hard time with the concept and will not get over it because they will never try it.

:sad:

i have a little bit of hope though. look at how widespread sushi is....

what this "ethnic following" might refer to? Hawai`i expatriates? Asian-Americans? Something else? Anyone want to take a stab at this?

unfortunately, i dont go to the plate lunch places enough to know... but i can recall that there are more asian americans than others. but its not easy to tell the mainlanders from the hawaii expats.

L&L did not invent the plate lunch concept, which after all has existed for generations. So what exactly constitutes a copycat? Anyone who tries to sell plate lunch on the mainland? Or are there places that are actually trying to pass themselves off as L&Ls?

my feeling is probably anyone who tries to sell plate lunch on the mainland. it is frustrating for anyone to deal with competitors. it is the nature of business i think.

anyhow, im rather happy to hear them deciding on taking the planet. tis a good goal.

i remember as recently as 2001 being very frustrated because i could not find cheap, filling plate lunch in nyc, where supposedly you could find anything.

i was very happy to hear about their manhattan branches.
"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo

#5 Tess

Tess
  • participating member
  • 1,310 posts

Posted 14 December 2004 - 07:13 AM

I think they may have trouble expanding their clientele because people are so paranoid about eating starches and fried foods. I noticed a low-carb option or two on the L&L menu, but there is only so much you can do to de-starch and de-grease a true plate lunch. Perhaps with the Atkins craze on the wane, there is a little more hope.

#6 FoodZealot

FoodZealot
  • participating member
  • 740 posts
  • Location:Los Angeles, CA

Posted 14 December 2004 - 04:55 PM

Driving around LA, I've noticed at least four non-L&L, apparently independent shops serving "Hawaiian BBQ" popping up, outside of Gardena/Torrance, but close to pockets of Asian and ethnic communities, such as West LA (near the Sawtelle area) and on Vermont (near some Filipino restaurants). For the most part, it's just marketing, or re-purposing - most of the ingredients are on hand already, and just repackaged as "plate lunch." The old time places don't have much to worry about on the authenticity front, and I think these new places might actually grow the market a bit.

edit: actually, two of these four are Chinese take out places who have tacked on a "Hawaiian" menu to their normal menu

Edited by FoodZealot, 14 December 2004 - 04:56 PM.


#7 melonpan

melonpan
  • participating member
  • 753 posts

Posted 15 December 2004 - 02:08 AM

there is something to the "grow the market" bit.

maybe its bc im not a restaurant owner, but i can say that a little competition isnt such a bad thing.

in some situations more stores selling x can increase demand, win win. look at places like chinatown or koreatown. theres plenty of room for increasing demand from what i can see. most people dont even know about the existence of plate lunch. different owners opening more places, maybe more non-asians, non-hawaiians get curious and try a plate lunch, then they get hooked, and.... :D
"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo

#8 caroline

caroline
  • participating member
  • 475 posts
  • Location:Guanajuato and Mexico City, Mexico

Posted 15 December 2004 - 06:06 PM

Plate lunches places in universities may be promising. some of you probably know more about this than I do, but when I visited Oregon State University a few years ago there was a flourishing plate lunch place in the union. It may have had something to do with how many people from Hawaii go there,

Rachel
Rachel Caroline Laudan

#9 Norio

Norio
  • participating member
  • 42 posts

Posted 17 December 2004 - 01:24 AM

Here in the Sacramento, CA area, we've had a couple L & L 's open up, with another one coming soon. I think it's a good thing. I hear there's at least one other "Hawaiian BBQ" (not L & L) place coming to the area. Just a couple of years ago, we had no Hawaiian restaurants at all.

I recently found a place called "Mama's Korean BBQ," which I suspect has some Local style influence. Their plates all come with "two scoop rice," and they have Meat Jeon on the menu (which I haven't seen in any other Korean places around town).

#10 Toasted

Toasted
  • participating member
  • 510 posts
  • Location:CT

Posted 17 December 2004 - 09:24 AM

What's up with the mac salad anyway? When I was in Hawaii my favorite plate lunch consisted of tofu steaks, stirfried greens, and a couple of scoops of rice and mac salad- all eaten with chopsticks of course. Now I love the mac salad but I've always wondered how it found it's place on the traditional plate lunch combo. Does anybody know?
Melissa

#11 lambretta76

lambretta76
  • participating member
  • 441 posts
  • Location:Brooklyn, NYC

Posted 17 December 2004 - 09:39 AM

An L&L has opened in NYC, with another coming in the early Spring.

The staff was entirely Chinese, and the customer base was a mixture of young Asian business people and, for the lack of a better term (and I don't mean to be offensive), the secretaries. (For NYC, it is DIRT cheap.)

For $4.99 for the small curry chickent katsu plate, it was more food than I could eat, especially after trying the spam musubi. (The musubi unfortunately rekindled my childhood love of Spam, although I found the musubi too big to be eaten easily.) It was essentially good fast-food curry katsu, the chicken was nicely fried, the curry sauce cloying, yet comforting. I loved the macaroni salad - it was almost bland but had a nice kick as well. Hard to describe - I imagine it has to do with the particular brand of mayonaisse they use. (It kind of reminded me of Kewpie.)

I imagine this will do well as it is a) inexpensive and b) there aren't many options for Asian fast food in the US (Yoshinoya seems to be doing fairly well here, but that's about it.) In NY, at least, these are being built near major business neighborhoods, not in ethnic neighborhoods.

#12 kokimotonyc

kokimotonyc
  • participating member
  • 10 posts

Posted 18 December 2004 - 11:38 AM

I work downtown in the World Financial Center in NY and am looking forward to having a reasonable facsimile of a plate lunch from L&L. I am curious as to what the menu will consist of (is it the same as what you typically get from your typical L&L?).

I am skeptical that this concept is viable in NYC. I know first hand how low the margins are on a plate lunch. Hope it does succeed, though.

#13 russ parsons

russ parsons
  • participating member
  • 1,744 posts

Posted 19 December 2004 - 03:19 PM

i've got an l&l in my neighborhood. stopped in to give it a try a couple of times. huge portions, pretty indigestible for the most part, but i do love their spam musubi!

#14 glossyp

glossyp
  • participating member
  • 369 posts
  • Location:Oahu

Posted 19 December 2004 - 06:21 PM

and they have Meat Jeon on the menu (which I haven't seen in any other Korean places around town).

View Post


A bit off topic but...the infamous meat jun or jeon! When I first met my beloved (who is from Hawaii) he kept telling me about this great Korean dish called meat jun. Now, I adore Korean food, I lived in Korea for years, ate at Korean restaurants throughout Asia but I had never seen or heard of this meat jun. We moved to Hawaii and lo and behold there it was on every Korean fast food menu! A great example of cuisine adaption to local products and tastes.
"Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." TMJ Jr. R.I.P.

#15 melonpan

melonpan
  • participating member
  • 753 posts

Posted 19 December 2004 - 06:34 PM

Now, I adore Korean food, I lived in Korea for years, ate at Korean restaurants throughout Asia but I had never seen or heard of this meat jun.

maybe its a home thing. my mom is korean and not from hawaii but she made this. and it turns out that my mother in law (who has never left korea except to travel) makes it too for banchan.
"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo

#16 melonpan

melonpan
  • participating member
  • 753 posts

Posted 19 December 2004 - 06:39 PM

we call those meat jeons "dong geu rang ddeng" (동그랑땡) that may be another reason why you never heard of it.
"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo

#17 jschyun

jschyun
  • participating member
  • 1,552 posts

Posted 19 December 2004 - 06:59 PM

we call those meat jeons "dong geu rang ddeng" (동그랑땡)  that may be another reason why you never heard of it.

View Post

Yeah, we make these too, with and without dipping it in egg. I'm not a big fan actually.
I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
--NeroW

#18 skchai

skchai
  • participating member
  • 1,038 posts
  • Location:Honolulu, Hawai`i

Posted 20 December 2004 - 04:07 AM

we call those meat jeons "dong geu rang ddeng" (동그랑땡) that may be another reason why you never heard of it.

Actually, the Hawai`i meat jeon is different from "dong geu rang ddaeng", though I should have remembered the latter are sometimes called gogi (i.e. meat) jeon. Confusing! Local-style "meat jeon" (the English word "meat" is always used) is made from pieces of intact beef about the size of chicken-fried steak, which are dipped in egg and pan-fried (actually, sometimes deep-fried!). To those who haven't tried them, "dong geu rang ddaeng" are little egg-dipped seasoned meatballs that are pan-fried - one of those things that if I'm at a buffet party I'll just keep hanging around the table and take "just one more" around 50 times.

i've got an l&l in my neighborhood. stopped in to give it a try a couple of times. huge portions, pretty indigestible for the most part, but i do love their spam musubi!

Even more than other plate lunch places, L&L built its reputation primarily on giving you huge piles of food for a reasonable amount of money. I think it must be a kind of residual plantation worker mentality - the Hawai`i-style plate lunch was originally designed as cheap food to appeal to tired workers of many nationalities coming in together after sweating it out for 10 hours in the sugar cane or pineapple fields. And this outlook towards taste seems to be retained in contemporary plate lunch concepts, even though the contemporary customers, decendants of the cane workers, are probably sitting on their butts all day. Anyway, Russ, it was nice of the Times to run that article!

What's up with the mac salad anyway? When I was in Hawaii my favorite plate lunch consisted of tofu steaks, stirfried greens, and a couple of scoops of rice and mac salad- all eaten with chopsticks of course. Now I love the mac salad but I've always wondered how it found it's place on the traditional plate lunch combo. Does anybody know?

I think, in an earlier plate lunch thread, wesza revealed the secret origins of this mysterious side dish, once shrouded in the mists of time. . .

edit:  actually, two of these four are Chinese take out places who have tacked on a "Hawaiian" menu to their normal menu

View Post

Sounds like we're going back to Trader Vic days in some ways - with "Hawaiian" being attached to all sorts of East Asian foods to make them seem both alluring and less alien.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#19 glossyp

glossyp
  • participating member
  • 369 posts
  • Location:Oahu

Posted 20 December 2004 - 10:59 AM

we call those meat jeons "dong geu rang ddeng" (????) that may be another reason why you never heard of it.

Actually, the Hawai`i meat jeon is different from "dong geu rang ddaeng", though I should have remembered the latter are sometimes called gogi (i.e. meat) jeon. Confusing! Local-style "meat jeon" (the English word "meat" is always used) is made from pieces of intact beef about the size of chicken-fried steak, which are dipped in egg and pan-fried (actually, sometimes deep-fried!). To those who haven't tried them, "dong geu rang ddaeng" are little egg-dipped seasoned meatballs that are pan-fried - one of those things that if I'm at a buffet party I'll just keep hanging around the table and take "just one more" around 50 times.


Thanks SK. I knew if I waited a bit you'd clarify the confusion. BTW, I know what you mean about gorging on "meatballs"!
"Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." TMJ Jr. R.I.P.

#20 jschyun

jschyun
  • participating member
  • 1,552 posts

Posted 20 December 2004 - 01:50 PM

To those who haven't tried them, "dong geu rang ddaeng" are little egg-dipped seasoned meatballs that are pan-fried - one of those things that if I'm at a buffet party I'll just keep hanging around the table and take "just one more" around 50 times. 

View Post

Hehe, I don't do this with dong geu rang ddaeng, but the scenario sure sounds familiar...

thanks for clearing up the meat jeon thing. I guess I just assumed it was the ground beef version and now I understand why you said that Korean people wouldn't treat a good piece of beef like that because beef is expensive there.
I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
--NeroW

#21 jschyun

jschyun
  • participating member
  • 1,552 posts

Posted 20 December 2004 - 01:52 PM

I actually had a pretty decent ahi poke at the Irvine L&L not too long ago. It wasn't the greatest, but it was better than I thought it would be and went well with the mac salad.

Edited by jschyun, 20 December 2004 - 01:53 PM.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
--NeroW

#22 laniloa

laniloa
  • participating member
  • 479 posts
  • Location:Washington, DC

Posted 21 December 2004 - 03:19 PM

I work downtown in the World Financial Center in NY and am looking forward to having a reasonable facsimile of a plate lunch from L&L.  I am curious as to what the menu will consist of (is it the same as what you typically get from your typical L&L?).

I am skeptical that this concept is viable in NYC.  I know first hand how low the margins are on a plate lunch.  Hope it does succeed, though.

View Post



Where are they in NYC? I get there more often then I get back to Hawaii and would love to get a fix on my next trip.

#23 lambretta76

lambretta76
  • participating member
  • 441 posts
  • Location:Brooklyn, NYC

Posted 28 December 2004 - 10:45 AM

Where are they in NYC? I get there more often then I get back to Hawaii and would love to get a fix on my next trip.



There's one at 64 Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan (Financial District) and one opening in Februray in Midtown at 535 8th Avenue.

#24 laniloa

laniloa
  • participating member
  • 479 posts
  • Location:Washington, DC

Posted 29 December 2004 - 11:39 AM

Where are they in NYC? I get there more often then I get back to Hawaii and would love to get a fix on my next trip.



There's one at 64 Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan (Financial District) and one opening in Februray in Midtown at 535 8th Avenue.

View Post



Excellent -- I'll be not far from the midtown location early March.

#25 viaChgo

viaChgo
  • participating member
  • 300 posts
  • Location:Chicago, IL

Posted 29 December 2004 - 12:14 PM

There's a place here in Chicago that opened up not too long ago called Aloha Grill. They just got a favorable write-up in the Chicago Tribune today. You can find the review here (you may have to register).

A good friend of mine is from Hawaii & we've talked about plate lunch before so I was excited to give the place a try. Also, being Korean-American, there are a lot of comforting flavors available to me. I like the place a lot & have eaten there several times now.

#26 glossyp

glossyp
  • participating member
  • 369 posts
  • Location:Oahu

Posted 29 December 2004 - 01:12 PM

There's a place here in Chicago that opened up not too long ago called Aloha Grill. They just got a favorable write-up in the Chicago Tribune today. You can find the review here (you may have to register).

A good friend of mine is from Hawaii & we've talked about plate lunch before so I was excited to give the place a try. Also, being Korean-American, there are a lot of comforting flavors available to me. I like the place a lot & have eaten there several times now.

View Post


Thanks for the info & link. Sounds like a really good plate lunch place. I have a friend in the area and I'll let them know.
"Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." TMJ Jr. R.I.P.

#27 glossyp

glossyp
  • participating member
  • 369 posts
  • Location:Oahu

Posted 29 December 2004 - 01:12 PM

sorry for the double post - browser is acting funky today!

Edited by glossyp, 29 December 2004 - 01:13 PM.

"Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." TMJ Jr. R.I.P.

#28 crosparantoux

crosparantoux
  • participating member
  • 60 posts

Posted 29 December 2004 - 02:34 PM

I didn't read the original article that raised the issue of ethnic appeal of plate lunches, but I disagree that the term may refer to Asians. Here in Oakland, CA , on 17th St. there's a successful little hole in the wall called the Hawaiian Walk-In (as opposed to drive-in, get it?) Yeah, its run by Asians, but the customers who crowd in for laulau, boneless chicken, and teriyaki are black, hispanic, transplanted islanders, or homesick kamaainas (like me). At first I'd say it's working-class, rather than "ethinc" but I'm not working class. Maybe there's something else: this is soothing food that, from conversations I overhear at other tables, seems to touch childhood memories of family dinner. Rice, gravy, simple meat and a mayonaisy version of salad. This stuff is from a childhood that is not white-bread American. I ate food with a similiar amount of love and soul in East Oakland, served by the black grandmother of a friend. You don't see the Norman Rockwell American in Hawaiian Walk-In. Maybe to the original writer, the concept of ethnicity refers to others not like him/her. My haole wife isn't interested in plate lunches, but when I treated my mainland-born 8yr old son to a plate lunch after a hard soccer game, he understood--something genetic seemed to have clicked.
Sorry to inject possible racism here. The bottom line is that plate lunches are comforting. The chicken cutlet at Oakland's Hawaiian Walk-In, by the way, is better than Rainbow's Boneless chicken. And I don't care about the geneology of mac salad, just give me an extra scoop and it's okay if you put gravy all over....

#29 skchai

skchai
  • participating member
  • 1,038 posts
  • Location:Honolulu, Hawai`i

Posted 07 January 2005 - 01:21 AM

Thanks to all who have posted so far - it's really fascinating how the humble plate lunch is reaching out into all corners!

crosparantoux, your post got me thinking, and I agree with you that the appeal of plate lunch to non-kamaaina has nothing to do with "exoticness" and more with universal, down-home appeal that just happens to come from a partly non-Western context. The very fact that it is heavy, bountiful, and simple, yet a change of pace from burgers and pizza, is it perhaps its main appeal. That's one reason why people who are not from Hawaii, and who don't go in for "healthy Asian" veggie-chicken-rice bowls, find themselves at home in plate lunch joint.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host