Diner chain Ruby's plans six Hawai'i restaurants
By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
The arrival of Ruby's, which has 36 company-owned and franchised restaurants in seven states, is part of an aggressive push by Ruby's Diner Inc. to move its full-service theme restaurants into Colorado, Utah and the Islands.
The company recently signed a lease for a spot at Maui's Queen Ka'ahumanu Center in Kahului, where it is scheduled to open a 140-seat restaurant with 50 to 60 employees serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Doug Cavanaugh, president and chief executive officer of the 20-year-old restaurant chain, which has its headquarters in Newport Beach, said the company will operate the Maui Ruby's and anticipates opening five more in the Islands in the next five years at an estimated cost of $700,000 to $2.4 million each.
Locations that Cavanaugh said he's interested in are on O'ahu at Ala Moana Center, Ward Centres and the planned retail redevelopment in Waikiki by Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, as well as spots in Lahaina, Ka'anapali and Kihei on Maui.
Kirk Baldridge, a Ruby's district manager in California, will move here with his family to operate and expand the chain in Hawai'i.
Cavanaugh, a part-time Hana resident since he got married on the Valley Isle three years ago, said that after falling in love with Hawai'i, he realized there was a niche for his restaurants.
"I think we provide something quite unique," he said. "It's hard to resist an old-fashioned cheeseburger and milk shake."
At Ka'ahumanu Center, Ruby's is taking the space formerly occupied by Russell Siu's Kakaako Kitchen and Sam Choy's, two kama'aina restaurants that closed after relatively short runs at the island's largest mall.
"That just didn't seem to work," Scott Crockford, real property vice president for the center's general partner Maui Land & Pineapple Co., said of the two previous operators.
Crockford said Ruby's, with a classic American diner look dressed up in Hawaiian fashion, should do well. "It'll be perfect," he said. "It's a family place with reasonable prices, good food and fun."
Typical Ruby's decor includes red vinyl booths, white formica tables, soda fountains, poster art, music and memorabilia from the '40s.
Cavanaugh said the local restaurants will reflect the romantic notions of old-fashioned travel to Hawai'i, with displays of Pan Am Clippers and the Lurline passenger steamship. "We're going to try to bring back the romance of the old days of Hawai'i as an exotic destination," he said. The menu offers American comfort foods of yesteryear like meat loaf, grilled cheese sandwiches and corn dogs "just like you had at the County Fair" as well as lemon Cokes, root beer floats and apple pie.
Ruby's also serves an aloha burger la teriyaki glaze and pineapple ring along with pineapple shakes. Additionally, the company plans to tailor the menu with Hawai'i-specific items such as fresh fish tacos and a plate-lunch section featuring teri-chicken with rice and other favorites.
Cavanaugh opened the first Ruby's, named after his mother, in 1982 in a former bait shop at the end of the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach. The 45-seat diner had first-day sales of $63. First-year sales grew to $600,000. Today, Ruby's is a $70 million company with average per-restaurant sales of $2 million a year.