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Leading a Restaurant Culture with Warmth and Hospitality

Interview with Chef Roy Yamaguchi of Roy's Restaurants about learning to lead with love, becoming a celebrity chef, and growing a food empire.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Takeaways from this episode:

Talent Will Only Get You So Far — Chef Roy Yamaguchi opened his first restaurant with a ton of backing and a ton of talent. About four years later, that restaurant shut its doors and was sold for 10 cents on the dollar after learning an extremely valuable lesson. "You need to have the ability to operate a restaurant from A to Z."

Hospitality is a Must — Quality food is a pillar to the survival of any restaurant. That isn't enough for Chef Roy Yamaguchi. He believes good food prepared by good people provides an experience that customers will cling to and keep them coming back.

Do It Now! — Chef Yamaguchi is a man of discipline. So much so, he doesn't understand procrastination. Quite frankly, he hates it. However, it isn't for the reason you may think. When opportunity comes you have to be ready to strike.


Chef Roy Yamaguchi built a food empire by focusing on the human side of the restaurant business.

Infusing the entirety of his culture and belief of the importance of immaculate service with great people serving great food has catapulted Roy's Restaurants to success, and made Chef Yamaguchi a household name.

The world-renowned chef and owner of 10 restaurants in Hawaii began his career in the 1980s with a big splash. He gathered 70 investors and opened 385 North in Los Angeles, California. The massive establishment had enough room to seat over 300 patrons, and was the talk of the town for a while.

"We were very, very popular and the restaurant did well in the beginning," Chef Yamaguchi explains of his first restaurant. Four years later the restaurant was sold for "10 cents on the dollar."

"The talent I had was in the kitchen. We were short on the management side of it. You need to have the ability to operate a restaurant from A to Z," says Chef Roy on the Restaurant Influencers podcast hosted by Shawn P. Walchef of Cali BBQ Media.

Lesson learned.

Chef Yamaguchi moved to Hawaii with a new mindset and a renewed connection to the people.

"Moving back here, I've been very, very fortunate to really take the spirit of everybody that lives here," says Chef Yamaguchi about being in Hawaii. Embracing the culture added the 'warmth" that he felt was missing with the first restaurant. With the opening of Roy's in 1987, Chef Yamaguchi was intentional in who was serving the food.

"For me, I always think that I look at the humanistic side of a chef, first. Are they good humans? Are they good people?" he explains. "When they are good people, that, to me, makes their ability as a chef even higher."

Roy's popularity grew after multiple television appearances. Though initially intimidated, the television exposure has been invaluable to the growth of Chef Yamaguchi's brand.

"I was scared to death," he says about first being on television. "You go to be on TV because that's one of the ways where you can get yourself out there. But even today I still get nervous. But the reason why I get nervous is because I want to do a good job. You know?

"To me, that nervousness is what propels me to do even better and to take the risk that you need to take in life."

One of those risks included a stint as a judge on Hell's Kitchen with the notoriously tough Gordon Ramsey, whom he said may be a bit different than people think.

He described his time with Ramsey as "actually fun for me because, you know what? He's an incredible human being and is a great person. He may come across harshly. In reality, he's out there making sure that everybody is comfortable."

Hospitality is the Heart of Restaurant Culture

Roy Yamaguchi leads with his heart and gratitude, crowning the local farmer, ranchers,and fishermen as "superstars''. He is fully in tune with the role that each element of Hawaii plays in the success of his Roy's Restaurants, and wants to give that back to them 100 fold — something he felt contributed to his first restaurant having to shut its doors.

"At the end of the day, we didn't have the hospitality. We were missing the hospitality. We were missing the want to take care of people," says Chef Yamaguchi.

Since then, he has formed a culture based on a foundational question:

What can you do for people today that's going to be above and beyond?

With the ultimate goal being, "to give them something that you know they wanted but haven't asked for."

Chef Yamaguchi extends warmth in the form of food, servie, and community. That feeling we all felt around the foods that our loved ones labored over in our homes is the driving force behind the culture of Roy's restaurants. It comes naturally to Chef Roy Yamaguchi because it is authentic. It is truly from the heart. He makes a concerted effort to ensure the customers are enveloped with hospitality when visiting his establishments.

"We need to make sure we take care of our guests. One guest at a time," Yamaguchi says on the Restaurant Influencers podcast. "It's not rocket science. It's something that comes from your heart."



NOMINATE A RESTAURANT INFLUENCER — Do you know someone who is killing it on social media? Let us know by emailing or sending the @calibbqmedia team a DM on social media.


Are you SICK and TIRED of scrolling through your social media feeds and not seeing your business anywhere?
Welcome to the Restaurant Influencers podcast series, sponsored by Toast.


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