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Lendio Success Story: Cary Peterson, Kohala Burger and Taco

Welcome to another American Dream Launchpad. This week, we sat down with Cary Peterson of Kohala Burger and Taco and talked about his move from Lake Tahoe to Hawaii, and his longtime dream of owning a restaurant fulfilled.

You can learn more about Kohala Burger and Taco at


BURKE ALDER: Welcome to the American Dream LaunchPad. I’m Burke Alder and we have another great story in Lendio Success Story. Today with me from the big island of Hawaii, Cary Peterson and his company Kohala Burger and Taco. Welcome.

CARY PETERSON: Hi, good morning Burke. Thanks for having me here, and we’ll start off just by saying aloha!

BURKE ALDER: Aloha! That’s the way we kick it off. I wish I was where you were. Hey, let’s get this thing started. Tell us a little bit about how you started your business and why you started it?

CARY PETERSON: Well, I grew up in the restaurant business. My family owned a small chain of Mexican restaurants which I worked in as a teenager. Eventually, I went to work at a large national Mexican restaurant company and worked my way up through the corporate ladder; and eventually became a restaurant executive. And I realized that as a restaurant executive, I had gotten really far away from things I had loved about the restaurant business which was cooking food and you know, working with people and being down in the trenches. That’s what helped my day go by. So I eventually just opened my own place, and I bought a place in Lake Tahoe which is where I’m from, and it was a little hamburger place, and I worked that for about nine years, and eventually I got tired of the winter times and so I moved to Hawaii. And while I was in Hawaii, I moved back to work in corporate restaurants and it took me a shorter period of time to remember why I had gotten out of corporate restaurants. And so, then I scraped together every penny that I have and I put together Kohala Burger and Taco. And ultimately the reason why, Burke, is that I’ve been wanting to do the food that I want to do. I want to take care of the people the way I want to take care of them, and I and to take care of my people and my facility the way that I want to do it. Not the way that somebody else tells me that it should be or needs to be done. So ultimately, that’s how I’m here today.

BURKE ALDER: What a great story. I love to hear your passion behind taking care of the customer, and the food, and your love.


BURKE ALDER: It’s really important to really find those things we’re passionate about, and then really move forward and then really help people. Now let’s talk a little bit about, is there anything that you would say is your favorite part of the day as a restaurant owner?

CARY PETERSON: Well my favorite part of the day is that I get work pretty early in the morning. We have a – primarily we’re a lunch business here where our location in our facility is we do primarily lunch. We cater to not only tourist but a lot of the local work guys that are, you know, in our area here. And my favorite part of the day is just in the morning, I’m typically here by myself or with one other employee and we’re planning up the specials for the day. We’re doing our preparation for the day and trying to spend as much time just getting totally ready. For when that person – that first person walks through the door; and then you know it’s game on. So I would say that’s my favorite part of the day because there’s also some creativity that goes in there. You know, I get a new piece of fish in. “How am I going to sell this today?” You know, I get some new vegetables and you know, “What kind of a burger am I going to put that on today?” so that’s my favorite part.

BURKE ALDER: Yeah, that’s really great. So let’s talk a little bit about your need for financing. What kind of set you on this journey to find a small business owner or business financing?

CARY PETERSON: Well you know, I have a very small facility here. My restaurant is only 600 square feet and we only have 16 tables inside. And basically there’s 16 seats inside, and what has happened is that in four years that I’ve been opened, we just really kind of grown out in the facility in and of itself. With that being said, we are very seasonal here. And we’re also in a resort area so even though at 12:30, we’re packed to the gills with people; at 3:30 there’s nobody in here. And so I don’t know that I necessarily want to pay a bunch more rent at 3:30. So my need has come about to better equip my facility to handle the business load when it’s here. And I’ve just continued to kind of you know reinvest in the facility. And doing the type of business that I do, in restaurants, we’re in a very narrow profit margin. If we could put about 10% or 11% on the bottomline, we’re really doing well. Most restaurants lose money and they lose it slowly over the course of time. So to make 10% or 11% is very good. But at that rate, even a busy restaurant, to put some capital together to make improvements, it’s a very very long process. And in that long process, by the time you get that capital saved up, you probably have more things that needs to be fixed, repaired, replaced so on and so forth. So that’s kind of where my need for capital has come about and I was unsuccessful with my local bank. The bank that I put all my money into, give them all my credit card money, all my cash money, cash all my employees paychecks; they told me no.

BURKE ALDER: Yeah. We wish that story wasn’t so much like that but that is you know one of the stories we typically hear sometimes. So you’re at that stage where may be they give you the answer that you were unexpected to hear. Talk to us about your Lendio experience and how that experience went in finding a loan?

CARY PETERSON: Well I – Lendio came on one of my Facebook pages. That’s how I originally got turned on to it. And so I filled out the – it was just a real short application that was online. Just basically my name and you know my business, and how long I’ve been in business. It probably just took me a couple of minutes. And then at that point, I was contacted by a Lendio representative. And of course you know, being that it was on the internet, I was suspicious of course and so I did some research. I looked up Lendio. I looked up the person that I was working with. I asked for a couple of references from that person to be, you know, to be sure that I wasn’t going to be loaning you money, right. Because that can happen on the internet as well. And so as things started to like, “Okay, well this is a legitimate company that’s helping small businesses” and you know and that was how it got started off. And so there was some financing that was available in the beginning for me right off the bat but it wasn’t financing that I thought was going to work for my business. And so what was great about working Brett at Lendio is that you know he said “Okay, here’s another option. All right, you don’t like that? Let’s try this option.” And ultimately, we found somebody that was a match for what I needed and you know and the way that I needed to be able to use the money.

BURKE ALDER: What a great story. That’s what our mission is, is to put all these options in one place so that you have the best loan and way to finance your business there in Hawaii. And so we really want to make sure that those – every adviser that you get like Bret you know steps, gives all he has to really help you succeed. Well that’s our passion  here at Lendio. So thanks for telling that story

CARY PETERSON: I really appreciate it that you know I’m a small guy, a small business; I understand that. And I wasn’t you know, I don’t know that we talk about but it’s not a gigantic loan that I’m getting. So I’m sure that you know it would’ve been easy for Bret to work on bigger fish and bigger loans and things like that but you know, he and I communicated through text and you know I was able to get the stuff done that he needed. I sent all my stuff one time and then he was able to manage it from there which was one of my concerns in finding financing to begin with which is cool about Lendio is that you know “Okay, this isn’t going to work. Get all the stuff together and send it again. Oh, this isn’t going to work so get all the stuff together and send it again.” I’m a cook. I’m a chef. I run a restaurant. I don’t have time for all of that. So having somebody that was on my team to help me with that was that was awesome.

BURKE ALDER: Yeah, that’s great to hear. Thanks. We appreciate that, those compliments. And it’s been awesome to have you on this Lendio Success Story in the American Dream LaunchPad. We appreciate your time today. Is there any advice especially you would say during Valentine’s Day? Is there anything you would give to small business owners about how to take care of your customers during the day of love?

CARY PETERSON: Well, the first thing that I would recommend is that I utilize what we call a ‘tomorrow principle’ with our business. And basically we’re working with everything that we’re doing today, we understand is going to affect us tomorrow. So the way we treat our customers today is going to determine whether we have customers tomorrow. The way we treat our employees today will be determined whether we have employees tomorrow. And then ultimately here on an island, we especially learn that your vendors they’re your partners. Because when you’re out on an island and you need bread, you’ve got work with your bread guy. And so there are some challenges for both my business and his. We have to work together on that. So utilize the ‘tomorrow principle’ and you know, take care of people today so that they’ll be here tomorrow.

BURKE ALDER: I think that is awesome advice and I can see why you’ve been so successful through your career of bringing really good food wherever you are especially in the beautiful island of Hawaii. So we appreciate your time today. This has been another American Dream LaunchPad with the success story of Kohala Burger and Taco. We have Cary Peterson on today. Cary one again, thanks a lot for joining us and continue success with your business and as they say in the islands aloha.

CARY PETERSON: Thanks Burke. And Mahalo and one little thing is Shaka.

BURKE ALDER: All right, thanks.

CARY PETERSON: Have a good day.

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About the author
Kolby Larsen

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