How do you say barbecue in Hawaiian? L&L, of course

The L&L Hawaiian Barbecue chain has opened its first restaurant in Thurston County.

The owners are longtime Tumwater residents Louis and Donetta Matautia. Louis grew up in Honolulu, which means the couple and their two daughters frequently travel to Hawaii to see family. While there, they can indulge their love of L&L, or, once home, they can drive north to Lakewood or Tacoma to eat at the restaurant chain.

It was during one of those visits that they inquired whether the business had plans to come to Thurston County. Learning there were no immediate plans to expand south, the Matautias decided about two years ago do it themselves.

They opened in a storefront across from Fred Meyer in Tumwater on Oct. 17, a Wednesday. Despite it being in the middle of the week, they quickly discovered that many know and love L&L food. The line stretched out the door that first day. In fact, there were so many hungry customers, they ran out of supplies, so they closed in the afternoon and reopened for dinner.

L&L began in the 1970s and has expanded to more than 200 locations throughout the U.S. and Japan. The Tumwater store is the eighth in Washington state. A ninth store is under construction, and the Matautias have their eyes on a 10th location in Shelton, Louis said.

The business serves a plate-style lunch that reflects the history of Hawaii and the migrant workers from various Asian and South Pacific backgrounds who gathered and shared lunch together.

At L&L, you can dine on:

Musubi: A protein, such as Spam, wrapped in rice and seaweed.

The BBQ mix plate: Beef, chicken and pork chops, alongside two scoops of rice and macaroni salad.

Loco Moco: Eggs, served any style (over easy is one way to go) on a hamburger patty made especially for L&L, covered with gravy on a bed of rice. It also comes with macaroni salad. Donetta recommends a dash of soy sauce on that mac salad.

Kalua pork: In Hawaii, the pig might be cooked underground for a special occasion. At L&L, the pork is slow-cooked in a kettle, then emerges as a tender, pulled-pork dish with Hawaiian seasonings.

Everything is cooked to order, so the wait time for customers is six to eight minutes, Louis said.

“We’re excited at how well it has been received,” he said about the Tumwater location.

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

  • Owners: Louis and Donetta Matautia

  • Location: 5312 Littlerock Road SW, Tumwater

  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.

  • A capital romance: Louis and Donetta met when they both worked in the restaurant of the Governor Hotel in Olympia. He washed dishes and she waited tables.

  • Online: Find them on Facebook.

  • Decor: In one corner of the restaurant is a blown-up photo of a beach in Hawaii. Some customers are not only getting a taste of Hawaii, but they have been taking selfies in front of the photo, telling friends that they’re in Hawaii.