A popular Kansas City area restaurant known for its Hawaiian plate lunch-inspired menu now is officially open in Columbia. Hawaiian Bros Island Grill wants to bring its core tenets of ohana, or family, and the aloha spirit to Columbia, said Josh Roan, launch manager.
“We had a lot of great feedback in the Kansas City market to bring one to Columbia,” he said, adding that he has heard stories of people driving to the Blue Springs location from Columbia just for the food, or on the way to events in Kansas City. “We are excited to be here in Columbia. The community has been very welcoming. We know it has taken a while to get to this point.”
The restaurant held soft opening events Friday and Saturday for first responders, teachers, students and other local business owners. There was a mix of about 60% who knew of and had eaten at a Hawaiian Bros before and the rest were first-time visitors, Roan said. Visitors at the head of line Monday, which wrapped all the way around the building, also had a smattering of those who already knew what the restaurant offered and brand new guests.
The restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight.
“There aren’t many places open (in Columbia) after 10 p.m. (We can) give a guest a chance to get fresh food fast at late night, with no freezers or fryers, that is a quality product at an affordable price for the amount of food you get,” Roan said.
Hawaiian Bros can take orders online, through its app as well as in-person and the drive-thru. For those who order ahead for pickup, staff members will bring the food out to your car, Roan said. The restaurant also will be available through delivery apps Grubhub, Door Dash and Uber Eats.
The Columbia location at 1401 Grindstone Parkway had a slightly bumpy road from property acquisition to Monday’s opening. This partially was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the company having trouble finding people to complete the remodeling work, Roan said. It is the 45th location and is owned by the company instead of being a franchise. The building formerly was a Jack in the Box and before that a Taco Bueno.
“We can only find so many people to build a Hawaiian Bros. It is kind of what we ran into,” Roan said. “… The shell is all the same, but we have new everything in the building. We repaved the parking lot and we have some things still in progress. As far as everything else, it’s brand new.
“We like the outside to look just as good as the inside.”
Hawaiian Bros was created by brothers Tyler and Cameron McNie. The first location was in Belton, Missouri. The McNies originally come from the West Coast, but Midwest friends from Kansas City inspired them to bring a version of their family’s Hawaiian grill restaurant here, Roan said.
The McNie family took trips to Hawaii when they were young and often ate plate lunches. That is what they wanted to bring back to the contiguous U.S., Roan said. About 200 staff took a trip to Hawaii last year.
“We went to a taro field. We did a lot of charitable work on the islands,” Roan said. “(This was when) we were at about 30 locations. That trip showed why our values are our values,” Roan said. “We call ourselves island-inspired, because we are not Hawaiian. We are trying to create that vibe. To do that, our menu consists of the island-inspired cuisine of the plate lunch.”
The core components of a plate lunch are a protein, rice and macaroni salad.
“We have no freezers. No fryers. Everything is fresh. It comes off the grill and goes to your plate,” Roan said.
There are different styles of teriyaki chicken, including a couple of spicier varieties, slow roasted luau pork, or seasoned steamed vegetables. A mix of two proteins can be selected for an additional charge.
“Ingredients are Hawaiian as much as we can. The teriyaki sauce was developed in Hawaiia. Numerous testings,” Roan said.
Guests can get additional sides if they desire and in case of a gluten allergy can replace the macaroni salad with a different side. Additional options are pineapple chunks, a small portion of steamed vegetables or a spam musubi, a glazed slice of spam with rice and wrapped with a strip of nori seaweed. Dessert is a fat-, gluten- and dairy-free pineapple soft serve. Beverages include Hawaiian Sun tropical fruit drinks or typical fountain drinks.
“Right now, we are the fastest, fast-casual restaurant in the nation to date. Our drive-thru times start to finish are (90 seconds) if you know what you are ordering. Our goal is to keep that going,” Roan said, adding if there ever is an issue, there is a customer satisfaction team to address it. “Before, it was Cameron and Tyler reaching out when we had five locations.”
Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Subscribe to support vital local journalism.