LoL Hawaiian Grill: Lots of love and laughs in this Sandy restaurant

Story and photos by ALEXANDRA OGILVIE

The restaurant Lol Hawaiian Grill is kind of hard to find, hiding in a strip mall at 9460 S. Union Square in Sandy. The inside is very clean, with bright colors and welcoming music. The smell of slow-cooked pork is enticing as soon as the door is open. There isn’t room for many people with less than a dozen tables, and the kitchen is visible right behind the register.

Seven years ago Lana and Lopi Toleafoa opened their restaurant in American Fork, and about a year ago moved it to Sandy. “When we started out, some of our friends said, ‘Well, you have to find a spot where there are lots of Polynesians,’ but unbelievably, and amazing for us, our clientele, our customer base, is about 70 percent locals from Utah,” she said. “But they love our food.”

And love their food they do: their average on Yelp is four and a half stars out of five. Lana Toleafoa said that’s because “it’s very unique in that all our recipes are made by our family; they’re family recipes and yes there’s a lot of teriyaki barbeque chicken out there, we’ve been known to have the best.”

Of course, Toleafoa said, the most important ingredient used in any mom and pop restaurant is love. “I think it makes a difference that we love what we make.”

Ana, whose family is from Hawaii, loves the authenticity of the food. “A few things they ‘got right’ first of all is flavor. I can tell sauces are scratch made. The overall flavor profile is right on. Second is, the cuts of meat from the short ribs having some fat on them, chicken thigh as opposed to breast and even turkey tails. All cuts you would see used on the island.”

In addition to raving about the food, almost everyone on the first page of Yelp reviews talked about how nice everyone who works at the restaurant is. “You’re treated like family when you come here!” BJ Minson, a regular, said.

Sarah, another regular, wrote, “I love LoL Hawaiian Grill! Friendly staff every time just like being back on the North Shore!” Toleafoa loves learning the story of everyone who comes in, called “talking story” in Hawaii. “We love meeting new customers and getting to know you people every day.”

LoL Hawaiian Grill always offers the basic dishes: barbecue chicken; kalua pork, which is slow cooked until tender; kalbi ribs, a Korean-style dish that is very popular in Hawaii; and garlic shrimp. But if diners want loco moco — rice, a hamburger patty and an egg — they have to come in on a Wednesday. “We find that people look forward to those specials on those days,” Toleafoa said.

“We also make Polynesian dishes, you know, we don’t just focus on Hawaiian,” she said. “What we do have are very popular and people love what we make.” An example of a Polynesian dish they serve is Samoan oka, which comes with traditional Hawaiian poke. Both are made of raw fish, cured with some form of acid, much like Peruvian ceviche.

Lana and Lopi were both born in Tonga and lived in New Zealand before moving to Hawaii and ultimately to Utah when their daughter Juanina was accepted to Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Lana and Lopi Toleafoa, owners of LoL Hawaiian Grill.

“We love our little island, we love the beach, we love the sand, and the ocean, so it’s been a huge, huge adjustment,” Toleafoa said. “But our kids wanted to get off the Rock.”

The LoL in LoL Hawaiian Grill stands for “Lana or Lopi,” but it could also stand for “laughing out loud,” “labor of love,” “love our life,” or “lots of love.” Toleafoa said, “We like to laugh out loud too! It’s catchy; it’s easy for people to remember.”

Despite being in the restaurant almost all day every day, Toleafoa and her husband love being restaurateurs. “It’s a lot of hard work, it gets pretty tiring, but we love what we do, so we hope to grow,” she said. “We work for ourselves, even though it’s really hard work, we’re the first in and the last out kind of thing, so it’s not easy. But just having that option where you don’t have to clock in, clock out, not having anybody to tell you what to do or jump here and jump there.”

They do it to feed their community: “We love that everyone loves to share the spirit of Aloha.”