Return of the Show
Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show is back after a two-year absence, signaling that the islands’ economic recovery is well on its way.
It’s often said that timing is everything in life. The same might also be said of good fortune.
In the case of the organizers of Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show, they appear to have lucked into a little bit of both earlier this year when they committed to bringing back the foremost trade showcase in the Pacific. This they did despite not knowing whether they would once again experience a series of false starts and ultimately have to cancel the event just like they were forced to do in 2020 and 2021.
But with Gov. David Ige’s recent decision to end several COVID-related mandates, including Hawai‘i’s Safe Travel program, the early commitment has paid off. Now, it is all systems go for the hospitality and restaurant industries’ signature event.
The much-anticipated showcase is set for 9 a.m.-5 p.m. March 30 and 31 at Hawai‘i Convention Center.
“The timing couldn’t have been better for us,” says a clearly relieved Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association (HLTA), when asked about the fortuitous timing of the governor lifting the indoor-masking directive less than a week before the show’s kickoff.
“We definitely picked good dates. Now you can come and you don’t have to worry about, ‘Do we have to mask? Are they going to ask for our vax card?’”
This will be the first showcase since the event — a partnership between organizers HLTA, Hawai‘i Restaurant Association (HRA) and Honolulu Star-Advertiser — was first held in May 2019. Naturally, Hannemann is delighted with the return of what he calls “the premier hospitality and restaurant trade show in the Pacific.”
“We’re super excited to be back,” he says. “We feel that this will be a strong message to the rest of the United States and the world, if you will, that we’re back in terms of having large, structured gatherings again.”
“Hawai‘i’s restaurants and hospitality industry will emerge from the pandemic crisis stronger than ever,” promises Tom Jones, past chairman of HRA, and president and co-owner of REI Food Service, LLC (dba Gyotaku Restaurants). “We look forward to the second Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show acting as a key indicator of Hawai‘i’s resiliency.”
Adds Honolulu Star-Advertiser president and publisher Dennis Francis, “Working closely with our partners, Hawai‘i’s newspaper is focused upon getting good news and information to the community. We continue to assist HLTA and HRA with ongoing recovery efforts and the return of this important industry event. The show is an all-inclusive resource bringing the best of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Rim together. It can’t be missed by those working in the relevant industries.”
Already, the event is expected to draw over 200 exhibitors from Hawai‘i, the mainland and Japan. It will also feature educational seminars by industry experts, live demonstrations, and the latest trends in information technology and quality operations, according to Jones.
But just as important as being a show for professionals and students in the lodging, travel, hospitality and food service industries, the event will provide ample opportunity for participants to help strengthen the local community.
“It’s not just an exhibit for us, but an opportunity to have some great auction items … to stay at resorts and take a trip to the mainland,” he notes. “Best of all, it all goes to (HLTA and HRA) scholarship funds.”
Finally, Hannemann is confident that this year’s show will create a buzz of excitement that will reverberate throughout Hawai‘i and far beyond its shores.
“I anticipate it’s going to be great because everybody will say, ‘Yep, we have to do more of these large and structured gatherings,’ and then these and other types of meetings will begin to take place,” he says. “It will show that we did it well, we did it in a safe way and it will all be a part of our economic recovery.”
This year’s event will also feature a number of key sponsors. Here’s a brief look at these vital contributors and what their representatives have to say about the upcoming Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show.
If anyone was born to work in the world of food, it’s Jason Wong.
“I have been in the food business since I could walk — no kidding,” he says. “My family had a small Chinese grocery store and restaurant supply business. That business was founded in 1934 by my great-grandfather.”
Small wonder that when Wong grew up, he became a major player for Sysco, the world’s largest broadline food distributor. As regional president for Sysco Hawai‘i, he considers himself fortunate to have been tabbed for the lead role after the company acquired HFM Foodservice in 2017.
“I feel very blessed to work with such wonderful people and in such a resilient industry,” says Wong, who oversees five distribution centers in the islands and Guam.
Now, he eagerly awaits the start of this year’s Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show and Sysco’s participation as the event’s lead sponsor.
“There’s a lot to share about new products and innovation that can help operators’ businesses,” says Wong. “We are going to be demoing some of our best Sysco brand items that help our customers deal with the big challenges of today’s market — tight labor, inflation, supply chain challenges. Our consultants and Sysco chefs will be on-site to talk directly with operators on how best to leverage these items to create more value for their restaurants and kitchen operations.”
Mike Rompel knows all about business adversity. When he assumed control of O‘ahu’s six remaining Domino’s pizzerias in 2006, the “restaurants were losing $600,000 a year and really not hanging on.”
But he refused to give up because as cheesy as it may sound, life is always best when pizza is present. Thankfully, his commitment to the pie received some much-needed help from a banking institution.
“I often say that I was fixing and operating a bankrupt business, but Hawai‘i National Bank just didn’t let me go bankrupt,” recalls Rompel, who got his start in Las Vegas as a pizza maker and delivery driver.
“After the first few years of building a Domino’s culture in Hawai‘i, we started to get our legs under us and really grinded for the next 10 years. By the time we peeked our heads above water, we were able to see the potential for prosperity in our future.”
Today, he’s the Hawai‘i franchisee for Domino’s and looking forward to this year’s showcase.
“Like every other business and person in business, I have a renewed appreciation for trade shows and networking opportunities following the lockdown,” Rompel says.
“This trade show is simple: In Hawai‘i, you’re either in tourism or you’re in business because of tourism. There’s hardly any business that can’t afford not to attend.”
The founder and CEO of VEDGEco Hawai‘i, Trevor Hitch, launched his company in 2019 after seeing “how little freedom of food choice for plant-based options existed in the foodservice industry.” Now, he operates the nation’s first vegan food service distributor while supplying plant-based meats, seafood, dairy and eggs to scores of foodservice operators.
“What is exciting about plant-based options for operators is that there is so much potential revenue to add to their menus,” explains the Chicago native who’s called Kailua home for the past 12 years. “Their customers want these products and all the operators need to do is find which plant-based options are the right fit for their brand and their customers and keep it on the menu.
“We want operators to make solid margins with plant-based options while offering inclusive options to all their customers,” he adds.
As for this year’s Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show, Hitch is grateful to be a part of it and will be introducing new product innovations in the market, including the plant-based “Spam” musubi from OMNI Foods.
“VEDGEco is incredibly excited to be one of the show sponsors,” he says. “As a member of the Hawai‘i Restaurant Association, this premier trade show is our first opportunity to meet the greater foodservice Hawai‘i community and introduce our innovative, delicious brands in person.”
UHA HEALTH INSURANCE
Founded by a group of physicians in 1996, UHA Health Insurance has built its reputation on principles such as trust and reassurance. In doing so, the agency has gained the confidence of thousands who have come to admire it for its clear and straightforward approach to health insurance.
As the company explains, “Health insurance can be complicated. We’re here to make it simpler.”
UHA also recognizes the need to champion crucial industries in the islands, especially the tourism sector. It’s why the company chose to be a part of this year’s Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show as its breakfast sponsor.
Currently, the health insurance provider serves more than 4,000 local businesses and nearly 7,800 members and employees in the hotel and restaurant industries.
“Over 30,000 jobs in the hotel industry alone were impacted by the pandemic,” the company says in a prepared statement. “With tourism being the largest industry in Hawai‘i, we recognize the importance of supporting the Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show … The pandemic has been hard for businesses of all sizes and as a member of the Hawai‘i Restaurant Association and Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association, supporting our restaurant and hospitality members and clients across the state is a priority.”
INDONESIA TRADE PROMOTION CENTER LA
New to this year’s trade show is Indonesia Trade Promotion Center LA, a nonprofit that promotes an array of Indonesian products in the United States.
But don’t let the organization’s fresh face fool you — its savvy representatives are intent on carving out their niche in the Hawai‘i market.
“Hawai‘i is one of the states that’s still untapped by trade representatives, especially from Indonesia,” observes administrative and accounting executive Sherina Msen. “Through this trade show, we hope to reengage the Hawai‘i market, resulting in more awareness of Indonesian products.”
For this year’s show, the trade development agency plans to bring along two established furniture companies: Indo Puri, which sells modern artisan furniture and is based in Atlanta, Georgia; and Bali Aga, which sells high-end furniture from Bali and Indonesia, and is located right here in the islands.
“We are very excited (to be a part of Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show),” says Msen. “The hospitality industry has been among the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic. With all these recoveries all over the place, it is estimated that both leisure travel and business travel will return. This is a crucial time for the industry to restart stronger than ever.”