Amano brothers traded football for Hawaiian BBQ, and found success

When Eugene and Fred Amano wrapped up their football careers around the same time, they decided their next move would be in the restaurant business.

The two brothers bought four existing franchises of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue in their hometown of San Diego, before opening L&L Hawaiian Grill in Franklin three years ago.

And a couple of years in, business has been steady for the former NFL players.

The Franklin restaurant has built a loyal clientele and has more than 240 Google Reviews and a 4.3-star rating.

“Once people try the food, they love it,” Eugene Amano, a former pro offensive lineman, said.

“It’s something different than the rest of the spots around here. People are pleasantly surprised with the flavors.”

From the gridiron to the restaurant biz

Both brothers played college and professional football, although Eugene lasted longer in the pros and appeared in 124 games for the Tennessee Titans.

“I was living the dream,” Eugene Amano said. “Playing in college, you never really think the [NFL] could become a reality for you. The stars aligned, and I learned from the one of the best offensive line coaches in Mike Munchak.”

The former Titans lineman graduated from Southeast Missouri State and eventually played center and guard for Tennessee from 2004 to 2013, working his way from late-round pick to full-time starter. Fred Amano also attended SEMO and San Diego State, before bouncing around the Arena Football League and the United Football League.

As time went on, the Amano brothers realized football wouldn’t last forever. They wanted to bring the popular Hawaiian chain restaurant to Tennessee.

“I’ve always had an interest in the restaurant business,” Eugene Amano said. “I wanted something to do and this was a great way for me and my brother to partner up and work together.”

The move just so happened to coincide with the arrival of former Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, a native Hawaiian and current Titans starting quarterback, which helped drum up business and further connected the restaurant to the local football scene.

A needed name change

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue is based in Honolulu, Hawaii, and serves a variety of Asian-inspired dishes that are popular on the islands.

The Franklin location is dubbed “L&L Hawaiian Grill” to differentiate it from the numerous traditional barbecue joints in town.

“The corporate office didn’t want us to get mixed in with all the other barbecue places,” Fred Amano said. “But, we have the same menu as the other L&L locations.”

L&L is privately-held and has approximately 200 locations across 12 states and six countries. The bulk of the company’s restaurants are in Hawaii and along the West Coast of the U.S. mainland.

Most popular dish involves Spam

So, what exactly is Hawaiian barbecue?

“That’s usually the biggest question,” Eugene Amano said. “It’s unique because it’s a fusion of all Asian foods. There are Filipino influences, Japanese influences and Korean influences within the Hawaiian food culture.”

The typical plate comes with meat, rice and macaroni salad. The meat is typically cooked in a marinade similar to teriyaki sauce, along with other spices. They also serve dishes like “loco moco,” which Eugene described as a “Hawaiian comfort food” consisting of hamburger steak, over-easy eggs and gravy.

One of the restaurant’s most-ordered items is Spam musubi, a popular Hawaiian snack made of the cheap canned meat, rice and a seaweed wrapping.

“Customers have started to adopt the whole Spam thing,” Fred Amano said. “People that have never had it before give it a shot, and [usually] think it’s really good.”

Clarksville locations closes, but other shops could be in the works

The Amano brothers also opened an L&L franchise in Clarksville but were forced to close it in April after struggling to keep the restaurant properly staffed.

“We tried Clarksville, but it was a long drive, and we couldn’t establish a staff to keep it running on its own,” Fred Amano said. “We have a good market here with the Franklin community.”

However, Eugene Amano said he’s hoping to eventually add a new location closer to Franklin.

“If we were to expand, we’d try to stick to this area,” he said. “We’ll give it another year and kind of explore our options. I’d like to get into Murfreesboro or the Smyrna-Antioch area.”

For now, the Amano’s have their sights set on building a name for the Franklin restaurant.

“We’re still kind of a hidden gem, you could say,” Eugene said. “Not everyone knows that we’re here, but once they find us, they always come back.”