In 2004, Kamehameha Schools graduate Keli‘i Gouveia was working with troubled teens at a Marimed Foundation group home when he decided to take a job working security at Tiki’s Grill & Bar, where his twin brother was assistant general manager. He was reliable, got along with everybody and always punched in with a good attitude, so Tiki’s later asked him to jump into the kitchen. Soon he was running expo, then keeping the back of the house under control as assistant kitchen manager. Within a year, his side hustle had become a promising career.
Despite his lack of experience, Gouveia earned his chops on the fly by paying attention, cultivating relationships with his coworkers and stepping in wherever he was needed. “I got my butt kicked,” he says. “It was hard work, but the culture was so different, and the company took unbelievable care of us.” When the owners opened Holokai Grill in 2007, Gouveia jumped at the chance to manage both the kitchen and the front of the house.
Later that year, however, Gouveia heard that Duke’s Waikiki was looking for managers. “T S Restaurants was a company that everyone talked about working for, so it felt like a good idea to make the switch,” he says. “It was the smartest thing I did with my career.”
Six years later, T S Restaurants recruited Gouveia to work upstairs at Hula Grill in the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, where he spent a year and a half as assistant general manager. Now general manager, he leads a team of six floor managers, five kitchen managers, an assistant general manager and a chef. As a board member for the Hawaii Restaurant Association, he is constantly mining opportunities to grow the restaurant’s customer base and improve the landscape as a whole. “There’s so much room for our companies to be more open to supporting each other,” Gouveia says. “I’d like to see the walls of competition come down so we can help each other succeed.”
One of Gouveia’s goals for Hula Grill is to source more of their ingredients locally. “Not many people know we are a fish house,” he says. “Sustainability is a big focus for us. We’ve been buying from local fisherman for years because it’s important to give back to our communities.”
Competition can be tough given the sheer volume of restaurants in Waikiki, but the people and sense of place at Hula Grill have earned the restaurant a solid following. “When you walk in the building, everyone is smiling, and that really resonates with guests,” Gouveia says. “It’s always my mission to grow the business, but we don’t get better unless everyone on the floor is enjoying themselves.”
Another way Gouveia keeps his team happy is by lending an ear to anyone who needs it. “Our employees stay with us because when it comes to taking care of them, we’re all in,” he says. “They see that we care about their careers and want to see them grow.”
After many years of mistakes made and lessons learned, Gouveia cautions that the biggest oversight managers can make, especially in the fast-paced food service industry, is leading with an all-work-no-play mentality. “Having fun at work will draw you in and make you want to be there,” he says. “There’s no reason for people to be here when they’re exhausted. We call it the T S lifestyle—you’re meant to work normal hours, and that’s rare in the restaurant industry.”
Gouveia even goes so far as to take young managers under his wing and teach them life skills beyond the service industry. “I’m like the restaurant dad,” he says. “One girl asked me to go with her to help her buy a car. Those kinds of things are my favorite part of the job.”
Above all, Gouveia teaches his staff to never stop learning—a philosophy that has served him well over the course of his career. “I tell them to read and educate their minds instead of staying stagnant, and it reflects in their work,” he says. “I would love to be CEO of this company one day, and I’m going to push my team to reach for the stars, too.”