TAMPA — When chef Roy Yamaguchi opened his first Roy’s restaurant in Hawaii in 1988, his signature Pacific Rim-inspired Hawaiian cuisine was a largely foreign concept to the dining public on the U.S. mainland.
A decade later, when Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands bought the Roy’s concept and created a chain of 28 fine-dining restaurants worldwide that blended Japanese, Korean, Thai, Hawaiian and Australian ingredients, the idea of the celebrity chef-driven restaurants was in vogue.
More than 25 years after the first Roy’s opened, local restaurants are the rage among food lovers. To respond, the chain has revamped its menu to emphasize the talent of its chef partners in each restaurant and to match the expectations of customers who have seen Pacific ingredients become mainstream on Food Network.
Yamaguchi’s overall vision remains. Longtime customers will be glad to know the sushi and butterfish are still very much staples. But the restaurant now features a section on the menu featuring a page of items created by the chef partner in each Roy’s location.
In Tampa, that means executive chef Adam Hyatt’s food gets equal billing with the Roy’s classics in other sections.
Hyatt’s page includes such appetizers as salt and pepper crispy calamari and Thai-style meatballs with a glass noodle salad. Mahi-mahi served with Madras curry red lentils and Vietnamese orange sauce and a double cut bone-in pork chop with smoked turnip puree and crispy Brussels sprouts are among the local entrees.
Hyatt’s food mingles with other seasonal dishes and new creations, such as the Roy’s Signature Lobster Pot Pie and a salt-crusted bone-in ribeye.
Hyatt said the revamping process began about a year ago. His new menu items were a collaboration with his staff, which includes sous chefs Lan Mai, Maurice Evans and Bjarne Rankin.
Yamaguchi still consults with chefs at each location. He recently visited the Tampa and Sarasota restaurants as part of his regular tour of all Roy’s restaurants. He and Hyatt speak by phone each week about the menu, but Hyatt and his staff drive a majority of the ideas.
“We found that balance of keeping to our core and serving all of our regular guests and finding new ways to be fresh,” Hyatt said. “We’re not straying far from where we were.”
The brand’s “Eat Creative” initiative also is being pushed through a redesigned website and digital advertising that tout the local chefs. That includes introducing online visitors to each local chef. Hyatt’s bio discloses that he trained under Yamaguchi, that he likes cooking with scallops and that he is a rabid football fan. “I bleed red and blue for the New York Giants!” he writes.
“Roy’s vision was that he always wanted the chefs to be creative,” Hyatt said. “He wants as many great minds to think on menus as possible. We are refreshing the brand and giving Roy’s a modern-day face-lift.”