One of those fans is Vince Vernon, who sells commercial insurance and served his mission in Hawaii from 2000 to 2002. Mo’ Bettahs, he said, “took the environment in Hawaii — where everyone is happy to see you, where people are constantly feeding you, where there’s so much food that you cannot see the bottom of the table — and they brought that here.”
At one point, Mr. Vernon said, he visited the restaurant every day for six weeks because it reminded him so strongly of his mission experience. “And it’s the best food I have ever had in my life,” he said. “I can’t even begin to describe the endorphin release from that chicken katsu.”
Todd Bangerter, a plumber, served his mission in Kaneohe from 2002 to 2004. “I am a redneck hunting guy from Utah, and by the time I left Hawaii, I felt so much like part of the culture,” Mr. Bangerter said. “I really grew up there.”
To have a place as true to his memories as Mo’ Bettahs, he said, “all the way in Utah, where the biggest body of water close to the ocean is the Great Salt Lake — it’s amazing.” From his first taste of the macaroni salad, he said, it was like he was back in Hawaii.
The Macks quickly became celebrities in local Mormon circles. “It got to the point that when I changed congregations, I walked in and everyone knew who I was,” Kimo said. “They were like, ‘You’re the Mo’ Bettahs guy!’”
There is one subset of the local Mormon population that the brothers acknowledge they have not been as successful in wooing: people of Polynesian descent.
On a recent afternoon at the original restaurant, a table of teenage Samoan-American girls agreed that the food didn’t have the depth of seasoning they were used to.
“It’s good for Utah, but I’ve had Hawaiian barbecue with a lot more flavor,” said one, Charlotte McFarland. “A lot of the cooks here are white, so they don’t know how to season because they didn’t grow up cooking this food. This chicken katsu just tastes fried.”
A local Lyft driver from the Philippines who has spent much of his life in Hawaii said the food at Mo’ Bettahs was “not sweet enough” for his tastes.
This response doesn’t surprise the Macks. Polynesia has people of so many backgrounds that “everyone makes their food a little differently,” Kalani said. “That’s why we don’t want to rely on that Polynesian audience, because I think so few of them actually eat with us, and those that do are our harshest critics.”
Still, business continues to look up. Mo’ Bettahs has opened five more locations in Utah, and the brothers say they are one opening away from making $1 million in sales each month. “I’m an island boy who didn’t go to school, so that’s like, whoa!” Kimo said.
In 2017, the Macks entered into a partnership with the Utah restaurant development company Four Foods Group to standardize their business operations and grow the brand nationally. (Four Foods says it holds a 50.1 percent stake in the chain.)
Andrew and Shauna Smith, the group’s founders, said they were impressed by the economics of the restaurant. “You get so much food for your money, but the food cost is lower than average in the industry,” Mr. Smith said. There are also not many Hawaiian restaurants in Utah to compete with Mo’ Bettahs.
The plan is to open six more Utah locations starting this summer, with a branch in Idaho — which also has a large Mormon population — to follow next year. After that, Mo’ Bettahs plans to expand to states like Nevada and Missouri, in cities where housing costs are low and incomes are high.
Four Foods has gotten Mo’ Bettahs onto Instagram and Twitter, and expanded its presence on Facebook, which the Mack brothers had all but stopped using once they realized their fellow Mormons provided a much more powerful social platform.
“We’ve got this network of people from all over the world just because of the connectivity of the church,” Kimo said. “They have become our customers, our business partners, our insurance guys, our graphic design team.”
It helps that the teriyaki steak inspires devotion, too.
“This food is the next big thing,” said Mr. Vernon. “It’s going to be better than Chipotle and Panda Express.”
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