AO Hawaiian Hideout and Betty Hlavka

OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, Chicago Chapter

Betty Hlavaka is the owner of AO Hawaiian Hideout, an Asian Fusion and Hawaiian restaurant located in the Dearborn South Loop of Chicago. She was born and raised in Chicago, and has ran AO Hawaiian Hideout for the past XX years.

How long have you and your family lived in the Chicago area? 

My parents arrived in the 1950s, and raised us five children in Chinatown. It was a very close-knit community growing up, where my friends’ parents were either employees of my parents’ restaurants or were Cantonese business owners themselves. I’ve been in Chinatown since 1975 and still have friends who continue to live in its neighboring communities.

How has being a part of the AAPI community impacted your career as a restaurateur?

As mentioned, my parents owned and operated multiple restaurants, so we (4 older siblings) were all brought up in the business. Like many other Asian parents, their dream of having their children become doctors and lawyers was fulfilled by my siblings. I, on the other hand, went down the not-for-profit route working with low income immigrant refugee youth for several years…but somehow down the line, most of us siblings managed to return to the restaurant industry.

We were extremely fortunate as times were much different back in the 60s/70s trying to open up a Chinese/Hawaiian restaurant in an all white community, but my parents did it!!! It was not all smooth sailing as my parents along w my siblings faced discrimination, but not as bad as it could have been, considering the times and locations of the restaurants. It is actually quite disturbing and disappointing to still deal with racism via crank calls or inappropriate racial slurs with disgruntled customers.

How do you envision your relationship with customers, both those who are a part of the AAPI community and those who are not? 

My whole motto is “welcome everyone and treat them like family.” Many of the customers from my parents restaurant actively support what my husband and I built at AO Hawaiian Hideout. We make it a point to greet all patrons and welcome them with the aloha spirit. I focus my energy on providing an amazing experience, in hopes that every patron continues to return regularly. I try my best to match a name with their face, to the point where I consider them more as patrons as well as my acquaintances. In fact, we have spent many Thanksgiving holidays, as this is my day to show my appreciation to them for their continued patronage.

What are some future goals you wish to achieve for your restaurant? 

Honestly, I absolutely love our intimate setting and my goal is to never expand to multiple locations, as I would not want to lose that connection I make when I see these patrons on a regular basis. All I ask is to increase our traffic with catering, large party events and all day business for servers/bartenders to make money, especially during these cold winter months as many Chicagoans tend to hibernate. 

What is your restaurant’s signature dish?

This is based on wanting to try something different and can’t get at most other restaurants. Broke it down to each section and originality:

Appetizers – Panang Poutine

Noodle Soups – Indonesian Seafood Noodle Soup

Poké Bowls – Togarashi Softshell Crab

Sushi Roll – Midnight Tsunami

Island Favs – Hawaiian Pulehu Beef Shortribs

Popular Asian – Panang Curry

Fried Rice – Nasi Goreng

Noodles – Mie Goreng

Vegan – Sushi Burrito

What dish would you recommend to new customers

Same as above, plus the 

Ginger Garlic Wings

Kalua Pork Belly Tacos 

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