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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Hale'iwa Kua 'Aina moving to larger digs

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

After years of expanding to far-off places, popular North Shore sandwich shop Kua 'Aina is expanding in its own back yard.

The 29-year-old Hale'iwa restaurant mainly known for its burgers and long lines of customers is moving about 150 yards down Kamehameha Highway, with plans to close the original 28-seat hole-in-the-wall eatery tomorrow afternoon, and open in its new 75-seat location Friday.

"I'm bringing my grill, my cash register, my photos and my sign, and that's about it," said Kua 'Aina owner Terry Thompson.

The move is a relatively small one for the company, which sold 12 sandwiches on its first day in 1975 and has built a name for itself as a must-stop mainly among tourists visiting the North Shore.

Since 1997, Kua 'Aina has expanded from its single location to 14 restaurants, including 11 in Japan, one in Honolulu at Ward Village Shops and one in Santa Monica, Calif.

Kua 'Aina in Japan, which is operated by Tokyo-based fast-food company Four Seeds Corp. under a licensing agreement, is expected to add about two restaurants a year. On the Mainland, partners Thompson, Four Seeds and Mitsui USA are "testing the waters" for further expansion with a second location scheduled to open in the summer in West Hollywood.

The North Shore move, Thompson said, was long overdue because some customers were turned off by long waits and limited seating.

"I lost a lot of my business" with kama'aina he said. "I was always limited by my cooking capacity. If the grill was full, that was it. I could only run it so fast."

The new restaurant will have two grills and will comfortably serve what Thompson projects to be about 450 people a day, up from 400 on average.

Thompson said it took so long to upgrade because he had a favorable lease, and he couldn't find a suitable location on Hale'iwa's main thoroughfare.

"That's the key in this town," he said. "You've got to be on the highway."

More than a year ago, California businessman Larry Senn, who planned to develop a small commercial center at 66-160 Kamehameha Highway, next to Wyland Galleries, offered Kua 'Aina a 25-year lease that Thompson said was just the opportunity he needed.

Some customers have told Thompson that part of what made Kua 'Aina special was its cramped quarters, but Thompson said the move, which is costing him about $250,000, "will be much better."

Still, don't expect Kua 'Aina to expand further in Hawai'i anytime soon. Thompson said it's extremely difficult to find locations with large lunch crowds willing to pay more for burgers made with Nebraska beef on a kaiser roll, a grilled 'ahi salad or an Ortega chili-topped mahimahi sandwich.

"I've learned these (restaurants) don't belong on every corner like fast-food," he said. "You need the ideal location."

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8065.