The Story of Bubba


John Greco, Debbie and Andrew Hart

Bubba Burgers is not your ordinary hamburger joint. Customers toss coins at the feet of the cooks. Visitors arrive waving flyers proudly. "I'm here to get cheated," they say, pointing to those very words on the flyer they picked up at the airport. "You've gotta have fun," says co-owner Andrew Hart. Andrew and his wife Debbie, and their partner, John Greco, have been doing just that for the last five years at their "joint" in Kapaa. Plus, they opened a new "joint" in Hanalei in November 1993.

And, of course, they don't really cheat the tourists. That's a borrowed line from their T-shirt that tickles visitors. On the back, the shirt reads "WE RELISH YOUR BUNS", coupled with "WE CHEAT TOURISTS, DRUNKS, AND ATTORNEYS".

The coin tossing started when John told Andrew they could train people to eat their quality burgers the Bubba way, with mustard, an old-fashioned ketchup based relish, and diced onions--no special orders, please. After all, John's dad had done the exact same burger at Coors Tavern in Pueblo, Colo. since 1936. During the conversation, John accidentally dropped some change from his pocket and couldn't get it out of the holes in the floor mat that were about the size of a quarter.

"I'll bet we could even train people to throw money at our feet if that's what we wanted to do," John told Andrew. "Prove it," said Andrew. From that, Bubba's Coin Toss was implemented. With change from your order, you can toss a quarter into the designated white hole in the floor mat and win your very own Bubba T-shirt. The money generated from the coin toss is used to support local charities and community events.

The real game at Bubba's, though, is service-- in addition to the Bubba Burger itself, a Greco family recipe, John and Andrew credit Gaylord's Restaurant at Kilohana, where they and Debbie all worked, with the commitment to fine dining service which they employ at both stands. Calling each customer by name and remembering what they like is the key.

Customers remember them, too, for setting up a portable grill at Kapaa Park the morning after Hurricane Iniki. In the first five hours, they fed nearly 850 people for free. "It was nice to give something back to the community." says John.

Since opening the Hanalei stand in October 1993, John, Andrew, and Debbie haven't had much time off. They each work 5-7 days a week, and you'll always find one of the owners at each of the restaurants taking care of business. "We love our work. It nurtures and nourishes us. One day, we'll have plenty of time off," says Andrew.

(reprinted from KAUAI MAGAZINE Spring 1994)

 


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