As Chicago is a keeper of anthologies from distant lands, it is no surprise that within it there are also culinary gems that offer flavors that transcend continents and generations. One of which is AO Hawaiian Hideout, Chicago’s beacon of “Polyn-Asian” cuisine–bringing intertwined savor of Hawaii and Asia to the windy city.

Currently, Duane and Betty are the masterminds behind the ingredients that built the restaurant to what it is today. However, Betty shares that the Mise En Place was set way before her parents arrived in the US.

Duane and Betty. Photo Courtesy of AO Hawaiian Hideout

Setting the Mise En Place

The tale started in the early 1900’s when Betty’s great grandfather traveled from China to Hawaii where he was enamored with a native and married her. Through a series of events, the two returned to China where they continued their love story.

This is the start of a household with an enriched heritage.

A generation after, as if by fate, both of Betty’s parents arrived in the US separately where each began working in Chinese restaurants in their respective states–her dad in Texas and her mom in Wisconsin. “They met in the late 50's, married and had 5 children all while opening their 1st restaurant together in Elgin, Illinois.”

Despite growing up in the restaurant industry, they were not imposed to take over the business. “My parents wanted all of us to become doctors and lawyers,” Betty shared. True enough, two of them became doctors and two became lawyers (now retired and are restaurateurs themselves), while she dedicated her early life (1998-2010) to the not-for-profit sector working with low-income/refugee youth. For a while, it seemed that none of the children’s paths would ever lead them back to the culinary business anymore. However, when Betty’s mother had fallen ill, she stepped in to run the family business in 2011.

Photo Courtesy of AO Hawaiian Hideout

Turning Over Through The Trials

By 2015, Betty ventured out on her own. Eventually, she purchased the restaurant (then named, “Asian Outpost”) from her sister and her husband in 2018. Thereafter, came the trials and tribulations as she pursued with her husband their bright vision for the restaurant.

Understanding that a quick 360-degree rebranding is not wise, the couple chose to be faithful to the original flavors of Asian Outpost. “I could not change the menu too much as we inherited a rather large base of regular customers (dine-in, carry-out, and delivery)... So I just added more Polynesian dishes to fit our Hawaiian themed restaurant,” Betty explained. For the time being, the transformation was slow and the restaurant remained operating only at dinner time.

Devastatingly, a  year later, COVID-19 broke out. While many businesses were paralyzed, Betty, Duane, and her team turned over the tables and used the opportunity to fulfill their vision. “That was our opportunity to convert Asian Outpost to AO Hawaiian Hideout and open up for lunch hours,” she elaborated.

Still, it was difficult to stay in business. Apart from the limitations and restrictions, Chicago also has dreadful seasons of snowy and rainy days. During these times, Betty shared what pushed them through: “My husband and I are really pushing through for our regular customers, as well as our team, all of whom have been with us since 2014.”

Photo Courtesy of AO Hawaiian Hideout

Embracing Old and New Business Recipes

Through and through, challenges in running a business will require sacrifice and effort. There are days when it will demand more than what people are prepared to give. When asked what their secret recipe was when they took their entrepreneurial path, Betty answered that it was both of her parents, explaining that they sacrificed their entire life to provide for their children and never took a day off nor a vacation. They dedicated their lives to the craft of culinary business up until their last breath. 

Apart from that, Betty added that she learned alot from father. “He was once recognized as Chinatown's top chef. He was very creative and introduced new flavors and he always told me how important it was to build strong relationships with customers and to treat them like family.” She has truly embedded this as she shared that many of the restaurant’s patrons have become family, to the point that some celebrate Thanksgiving with them.

Betty has embraced the business for most of her life. With this, her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs was to expect to be present at all times at the very beginning stages. “Make sure everything runs smoothly, [that] team members are on top of their game, [to] meet & greet everybody that walks through your doors [and to] give them your personal email, and identify a team member to act as a manager and step up during your absence, “ she enumerated.

Even so, she understands that generations change. While all of the abovementioned are old and proven recipes that can still be applied now, she quips that it is also important to align with the digital and social media era. “Social media is extremely important, this part of the business has been a huge challenge for us. Everyone says it is a fulltime job, where most folks do not have it in their budget. When looking to hire team members, maybe consider that as one of the skillsets you are in need of.”

Photo Courtesy of AO Hawaiian Hideout

Truly, in a place known for its vibrant food scene, this Hawaiian-Asian family restaurant stands out as a shining example for its resiliency, versatility, and flexibility with the times. AO Hawaiian Hideout will continue to be a food haven for its patrons, a solid eat for the casual customers, and a hidden gem for those who are yet to step foot in Chicago.

Immerse your taste buds with flavors transcending generations and continents. Visit them at:
Address: 1315 S. Wabash Ave.Chicago, IL 60605
Phone: 312.662.1100
Operating Hours: Su-Th 11:30am-8:30pm | Fr & Sa 11:30am-9:30pm

Apr 28, 2024

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