Fast & First

WAILUKU – One month ago, no one had heard of the saimin burger, but thanks to L&L restaurant President Eddie Flores Jr., Hawaii is abuzz about the latest eating craze.

The burger wasn’t even Flores’ idea, but promoting it is part of his strategy to capitalize on the latest food trends, which has led to his L&L franchise success.

“You got to be quick; you got to be fast; you got to be first,” Flores told an audience at the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce’s impact marketing session Saturday morning.

At first, Flores had only heard about the burger that has Chinese cake-type noodles serving as the bun with the burger patty in between. The product had been selling on Oahu for about $10 and was drawing long lines, Flores noted.

As the burger’s popularity ramped up, so did Flores’ attention.

And a week or so later, L&L had its own saimin burger. Now, some of his franchises on Maui also have them.

The recent threat of a lawsuit over a copyright on the burger also served to ramp up publicity for Flores and his restaurants.

In fact, Flores said, the saimin burger buzz has probably been responsible for the recent 20 percent increase in sales at his restaurants.

Flores also struck fast when the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet was popular and offered an Atkins diet plate of meat and vegetables and took away the rice and macaroni salad. He is also capitalizing on the health food buzz and has been offering brown rice at his franchises. He noted that even chain restaurant Panda Express is offering brown rice, long after his businesses did so first.

Any type of publicity is good, whether it is good or bad, Flores told the workshop attendees in between cracking jokes at the ILWU union hall in Wailuku.

David Yamashiro, who owns Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice with his wife, Ululani, called Flores’ presentation “phenomenal.”

“I like his sense of urgency,” Yamashiro said after the workshop, pointing out that Flores never waits to capitalize on his ideas and marketing.

Yamashiro added that he’ll take up Flores’ advice to share his own business stories with the media to gain more exposure to the public.

The workshop also served as a confirmation for Yamashiro’s vision of expansion of the shave ice business on Maui and beyond in the near future.

Currently Ululani’s has four locations on Maui – two in Lahaina, one in Kihei and the other in Kahului.

Flores, who confessed he wasn’t a good student because he could never pay attention in class, built himself into a successful businessman in the real estate industry before becoming L&L’s head.

The boy who grew up in a poor and tough neighborhood in the Kalihi/Palama area on Oahu bought his first L&L in 1976 for his mother, who worked as a dishwasher at Patti’s Chinese Kitchen.

He had the money for the restaurant from his real estate business.

After a while, he took over the restaurant business and even expanded L&L (which stood for Lee and Lee from the original Korean owners). From around the early ’90s, Flores has been able to expand from one restaurant to 180.

He has franchises all over the nation and in Japan and New Zealand, with plans to open in China, Guam, Indonesia and South Korea.

Of all the restaurants, the only ones that he still owns are the L&L near Honolulu International Airport and the one in Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku Street on Oahu, which are also the highest volume restaurants, Flores said.

Even with all the franchises, Flores said he doesn’t have a large budget when it comes to marketing.

He joked that he is also Chinese, so he likes to save money.

He said a lot of his publicity is just driven by special events he easily creates, along with promotions of new products and right timing.

For example, he was in New York City for an opening of an L&L there.

He saw that Monty Python’s play “Spamalot” was also showing. Flores and his marketing team were able to tie the play and Spam musubi together, prompting a call from The New York Times.

There was a story in the paper and all of it was free publicity that Flores said could have easily cost him $50,000 in advertising.

The L&L website currently shows the company is looking for new management and a new location for an L&L in New York City.

Flores said he’s always self-promoting.

“That’s part of it. That’s business.”

He asked the audience if they knew the president of local eatery Zippy’s. No one answered.

But he then asked if they knew who was the president of L&L? Which garnered some giggles “When you see Eddie Flores, it’s L&L.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at