Downtown Jack’s Sports A New Look

Local ownership is giving a local look (and taste) to the Bishop Square Jack in the Box, with plans to expand the concept

Jack in the Box has been part of the fabric of Hawaii for the past 40 years, from the ubiquitous antenna balls that everyone had on their cars in the ’90s to the blimp that floats over all the games at Stan Sheriff Center, Jack has made his presence felt.

Now, as 2012 dawns, it has modernized and localized its look to accommodate a new generation looking for cheap and quick eats. This is best exemplified in its revamped Bishop Square location, where tropical murals now cover the walls along with a longboard adorned with the now famous Jack head silhouette.

Jack in the Box

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A screen shows stock prices

These updates were made possible changing the leadership at Jack’s from a corporate entity to a franchise owned locally by Chris Scanlan, who purchased the rights in 2006. Scanlan’s vice president Donna Yano has worked at Jack’s under both regimes and loves the new flexibility possible under local ownership.

“The big difference is that we are on the ground, we can move a lot faster and we are able to do different things,” says Yano, who has been with the company for 11 years. “For example, we can say that we have a very different market in downtown, we have a very diverse guest base, so let’s try to do something different that will really match this community. We wanted to make this location multifunctional.”

The downtown location now has more in common with a coffee shop than a fast food joint. Sandwich boards mark the entrance with today’s specials written on it in chalk while a foot-high digital board reads out the latest stock prices next to the order counter, and flat-screen TVs broadcast the news and sporting events. It has even added seating areas just for reading the paper, enjoying a cup of coffee and if you have your laptop or smart phone, utilizing its free Wifi.

All these additions have been made to change Jack’s from a spot you run in and out of to a place you linger, relax and maybe even do a little business.

The semi-autonomy of the local ownership also has allowed the company to tailor its menu more to the local community. In 2009 it began partnering with local producer Hawaiian Paradise Coffee to provide the java, and more recently they are working to incorporate more local favorites, Portuguese sausage and Spam, on their menu.

“We understand our brand, but we want to localize it a bit,” says Yano, who adds that offerings include Portuguese Sausage and Spam breakfast platters and is working with corporate on a Spam sandwich. “It is a lot easier with the local ownership to help push this through the corporate chain. You wouldn’t see this in our markets on the Mainland. These things are important to us.”

As far as expansion plans for the chain here in the Islands, there are two main goals: Kaua’i and East Oahu. The Garden Isle is yet to boast a store and east of Honolulu has nothing from Kaimuki until you get to Waimanalo, a market Yano says has been asking for a store.

Getting its product out to the communities is important to Jack in the Box, but just as vital is serving the communities’ needs. Locally its 27 stores employ more than 700 people, some of whom have been with the company for more than 36 years. It has been involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii since 2008 and this year began a statewide sponsorship of March of Dimes, including fielding a team in the March for Babies next month.

Perhaps the most visible support can be seen within the community at UH sporting events, from its sign behind third base at Les Murakami Stadium that admonishes players to stop looking at Jack and look at their coach, to the great white blimp that rains down coupons at all the home games in the SSC.

“Just being a lot more engaged with University of Hawaii athletics has been really good for us, a really good fit,” says Yano.

The blimp is a huge hit with the kids, who scream at it as it hovers overhead, and Yano’s 7year-old boy Carson is no exception. Since he was able to get around, his favorite thing about Mom’s job isn’t the free fries, but access to that fan-powered dirigible.

“I do not get to drive it, but it is a great vehicle for us. But it is not as easy to drive as it looks,” says Yano, with a laugh. “Carson just loves the blimp. Since he was a little kid, he will go up to it before it flies and just touch it and be in awe of it.”

While his awe may be of the Jack’s flying contraption now, when he grows up that may change to an adoration of its hours of operation. Generations of college kids have sustained themselves thanks to Jack’s openall-night drive-thru. After latenight study sessions or keg parties, young adults are attracted to that tilted ping pong ball visage like moths to a candle flame.

Yano would not reveal exactly how much of its business comes between midnight and 4 a.m., but acknowledges it is an important part of its success.

“We do real good late business, the tacos do real well,” says Yano, who gives a sly smile when asked about any stories she may have from the wee hours of the morning, simply stating she cannot recount those on the record.

“Jack has consistently been known to be open late, and that has been a real good business model for us. Late-night crowd, we get all kinds! A lot of people have memories of their college days at Jack’s.”

Or wish they had memories. Either way, Jack looks forward to another 40 years of feeding our midnight munchies, supporting our college programs and, just maybe, changing the way we think about a fast food restaurant.