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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Adaptability works for Huggo's

By Robbie Dingeman

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Eric von Platen Luder, Huggo’s president, says his restaurant in Kailua, Kona, has survived with the help of a devoted staff and by adapting to dining trends.


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Number of employees: 82, plus 24 in related company Paradise Gourmet Catering

How long in business: 40 years

Describe your business: Huggo's started in 1969 in Kailua, Kona, as a classic steak and seafood restaurant, similar to Buzz's and Chart House. It expanded to Huggo's on the Rocks and the catering company.

Work philosophy: President Eric von Platen Luder said his work philosophy has evolved over his 28 years in the restaurant business: "I really like the opportunity to be involved in our community as a whole, helping make it a better place to live, work and play."

Business survival tip: "The thing that's helped us survive is the loyalty of our customers and our staff. We couldn't do it without them. They've taken cuts in hours and pay and still come to work and give 120 percent."

Next big thing? Von Platen Luder plans to completely close the main restaurant for about six months, renovating and expanding it to three floors with a large banquet space.

Fun fact: The restaurant name comes from the first name of one of the founders, Hugo von Platen Luder. His classmates at Punahou nicknamed him Huggo while he was in high school, and the distinctive derivative stuck.

Contact: www.huggos.com

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Huggo’s is planning to close its main restaurant for about six months for renovations and an expansion.

Photo courtesy of Huggo’s

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Huggo's Restaurant in Kailua, Kona, gets noticed first for its view of the waterfront, as does its smaller casual partner nearby, Huggo's on the Rocks.

But President Eric von Platen Luder said his family business has survived for 40 years by adapting to changing dining trends and with the help of a devoted staff. He said the business relies on a mix of tourists and resident regulars.

Huggo's — the original, larger restaurant — was founded by Eric's parents, Hugo and Shirley von Platen Luder. He and his siblings grew up in and around the business, but the eventual president said he originally had figured on getting into the hotel business "and living everywhere in the world."

The younger von Platen Luder, 52, graduated from Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Waimea. He earned a bachelor's in business administration in 1979 from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

When he was 22, he had gone back to SMU to work on a master's in business administration, when his parents discussed retiring and selling the business to him. He said he realized what "a wonderful opportunity" he had and returned to Hawai'i.

He jumped into business, first running it under the older surf-and-turf restaurant menu.

The business has weathered the ups and downs of tourism, and it expects to begin a major renovation of the larger restaurant soon, von Platen Luder said.

Throughout the years, he said, teriyaki steak remains a favorite. But his more varied menu slowly evolved. Two years ago, he hired chef Konrad Arroyo, who had been at Hotel Hana Maui.

Some recent top sellers include togarashi-crusted ono served over Moloka'i sweet potatoes with lemongrass haupia sauce and grilled mahimahi with kabocha risotto.

And he said the kitchen is making more of a commitment to Hawai'i produce: finding greens, vegetables, goat cheese and hearts of palm locally raised.

"We often buy directly from fishermen," von Platen Luder said. "They bring it right to us, right from the boat a lot of times."

His Hawaiian-Chinese grandmother came from Hilo. His grandfather, originally from Denmark, came by way of the Mainland. He was confined during World War II at an internment camp in California.

While in California, his grandfather spent time with a lot of folks of Japanese ancestry, including a family that invited him to come visit if he got to Kona, and that's how the family ended up on the Big Island, von Platen Luder said.

All of his family has worked in the restaurant at some point. He has an older brother, Kaiiwa (Hugo) von Platen Luder, and a younger sister, Lisa Parker, who is currently working in the restaurant.

Although Eric von Platen Luder doesn't have children, he has a niece and a nephew and figures that they might someday want to be in the business.

But he's in no rush: "I'll have to play it out until I'm old and gray."