It was July of 2001 and Kendra Murray was starting a new sales manager gig on a new island at a new dining and entertainment joint called Dave & Buster’s, opening in the new Ward Shopping Center. It was a lot of “new” for Murray, who was still fairly new herself to the restaurant business, having spent most of her career working in sales for the hotel industry.
Furthermore, this new site, the brainchild of an arcade-owning entrepreneur and a restauranteur, was, well, different. In fact, there was—and still is, Murray believes—no place quite like it in the islands, a festive, unconventional mix between a game room, restaurant, bar and event space.
Then, September 11 happened. “It was a little nerve wracking,” admits Murray, who was pregnant with her first daughter at the time and had taken the leap to an entirely different island for the position. How would this bold new concept perform in a time of strife?
As it turns out, well. “We broke every record in the company for highest sales,” Murray says. “It was quite a shock. We didn’t know quite what to expect. It’s been one of the top stores in the company ever since.”
Seventeen years later, Murray is still helming the sales ship as corporate sales manager, leading her team of four to put on daily events—about 3,000 a year and sometimes 30 a day—from dinners and birthday parties to corporate events and charity fundraisers. As an employee of the Honolulu location since day one, she’s had a front-row seat to the company’s growth and change over the years, and her life has seen its fair share of change alongside it.
“I’ve seen a lot of change since becoming a publicly traded company, but Dave & Buster’s still has that family feel.”
Technology has, of course, been responsible for some of the transformation. The days of paper tickets are long gone, and there’s been a shift in emphasis to sports, with the addition of a new sports room and televisions broadcasting the latest games. And the company transitioned from being privately owned by its original owners, Dave Corriveau and James “Buster” Corley, to being corporatized.
“It was neat to see it start from an entrepreneurial vision between two businessmen and grow into this billion-dollar company,” Murray says. “I’ve seen a lot of change since becoming a publicly traded company with a lot of different efficiencies put in the place. But Dave & Buster’s still has that family feel. That still is portrayed here.”
It’s especially salient for Murray, whose own family has practically grown up at Dave & Buster’s. Now the mother of two teenage daughters, she remembers her girls spending school holidays camped out underneath her desk or spirited upstairs to the arcade by her coworkers and returning with bundles of giant teddy bears.
“They are very flexible and family oriented,” Murray says of the company. “They give you all the tools to be remote if you need to. As long as you’re getting your job done, of course!” Murray has never missed a school field trip and makes it a point to attend as many of her daughter’s volleyball games as possible.
The company’s family dynamic extends far beyond Murray’s own tribe. Not only does Dave & Buster’s participate heavily in charitable causes, including working with Make-A-Wish Foundation, the company has a slew of loyal customers who return time and again for fun, food and gatherings. Murray works with business groups, church congregations and countless others who have been coming to the restaurant since the beginning. International tours favor the sunset views from the rooftop bar and event space, while school groups often opt for a night in the arcade. Murray has hired employees who had their Project Grads at Dave & Buster’s and organized sweet sixteens for kids who had their first birthday party there.
She remembers one instance in particular. “A guest who met his girlfriend at Dave & Buster’s wanted to propose to her here, so he asked if we could put the ring in these little glass shelving units we used to have to display all of the different prizes,” Murray recalls. The whole staff was in on the surprise, and when the bride-to-be got her tickets and headed over to collect her winnings, she was in for quite the prize.
“There are stories that I think will forever be memories for a lot of people who have grown up here,” says Murray. She can certainly say the same for herself.