Inspired by the iconic Hawaiian Burger & Sandwich grill bearing the same name on Hawaii’s North Shore, Kua ’Aina’s wave has been well and truly caught in the UK, with two successful sites in London and the recent launch of its first Northern Ireland site in Belfast’s Victoria Square.
This latest addition to Belfast’s quickly diversifying restaurant scene represents a significant investment into the local economy, as well as bringing 30 new jobs to Belfast’s City Centre. While being Hawaiian in theme, Kua ’Aina is locally owned and operated and represents a sort of homecoming for two of the "Big Chiefs", Co-Founder, Paul de Francisci and Operations Chief, Patrick Gray, who both have their roots in Northern Ireland.
“While we opened our first Kua ‘Aina restaurant in London, our Belfast opening symbolises two Northern Irish boys bringing their business home”, said De Francisci.
“Two of our main objectives for opening in Belfast”, explains Gray, “were to open a successful restaurant that Belfast could be proud of and to bring much needed employment to the area”.
The team hope that the new site will further develop their business by showing that their model can work within a shopping centre, but also that it can work remotely to the core operation.
The new location also promises another really valuable long term asset to the business – high quality staff: “In Belfast we have a very different calibre of staff applying for work”, says Gray, “so it will allow us to look for future stars of the business, which will cement our plans to grow in the future. At the end of the day we are only as good as our people”.
As far as the long term development of the brand is concerned, the Kua ‘Aina team want to continue to grow, but in a considered manner.
“We are not looking for world domination”, says Gray, “but to have a group of restaurants that we are really proud to own and that add something different to the industry. We would love to continue the expansion into Europe, but only once we have got all our stores to the standard that we are looking for”.
The Kua ‘Aina team has risk-averse approach to the expansion of the business, preferring to grow steadily. “Growth has been steady and our experience tells us that this is the hardest growth stage - moving from 1 to 2 and 2 to 3”, says Gray. “We of course would like it to be quicker, but we are not willing to rush and risk the business and our standards by not getting it right”.
While the spirit of Kua ‘Aina might be a global sensation, the restaurant’s owners remain loyal to the brand’s ethos of keeping things fresh and local, sourcing the best possible local ingredients to make everything fresh from scratch according to their tried and tested recipes.
“We prefer working with local suppliers to ensure our food does not travel too far, says co-founder Ed Bardos. “Quality is consistently high and that we and our customers can feel good about supporting genuinely local business”.
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