Words & Deeds

Aloha, Idaho Mormons! Popular, fast-growing Utah chain opens new Meridian restaurant.

You don’t have to be a churchgoer to enjoy a borderline religious experience with a plate of Hawaiian food.

But it doesn’t hurt.

Just ask Mormon customers scarfing down teriyaki steak at Mo’ Bettahs Hawaiian Style Food, a Utah chain erupting like a small volcano.

The family-run restaurant, which has marketed itself successfully to the LDS community, will open its first store in the Boise area Friday at 3233 E. Louise Drive in Meridian. Launched in 2008, there are now 10 locations in Utah — including several opened in the past year.

Serving fast-casual feasts with solid portions, Mo’ Bettahs aims to “fill your opu (stomach) with ono (delicious) island food.” The fast-casual restaurant’s specialty is plate lunches, made up of seasoned meat, rice and macaroni salad.

But the key to Mo’ Bettahs’ popularity isn’t just the food. It’s The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Utah’s influential religious group has strong ties to Polynesia, as noted by The New York Times in a profile about Mo’ Bettahs last year.

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Hawaiian-style plate lunches are a hot item with customers. Mo' Bettahs Facebook

Founders Kalani and Kimo Mack grew up in Hawaii. After moving to Utah, the brothers opened Mo’ Bettahs with “no experience, no business plan and only the money they had saved from driving buses in Honolulu,” according to the Times.

As novice restaurateurs, they stumbled onto their target audience. After Kalani Mack created an online profile for Mo’ Bettahs, he “soon noticed that there were many Facebook groups for Mormons who had served missions in Polynesia. He started promoting the restaurant through those channels.”

“Mo’ Bettahs was suddenly mobbed with former missionaries,” the Times article continues, “eager to give their families and friends a taste of the place where they had spent their most formative years. Mormons, the Macks quickly realized, were their greatest marketing tool.”

Plenty of Idahoans who have visited family in Utah are familiar with Mo’ Bettahs. If you scan comments on social media, you’ll discover that Treasure Valley residents had been urging the chain to expand this direction.

Customers from all backgrounds should be able to find something to like. The protein options on Mo’ Bettahs’ menu include steak (teriyaki or pulehu), chicken (teriyaki, katsu or pulehu) kalua pig and shrimp tempura.

The food offers reasonable bang for your buck. Kalua pig, for example, costs $3.99 keiki (child), $6.99 mini and $9.49 regular. Mo’ Bettahs also offers catering.

A ribbon cutting with the Meridian Chamber of Commerce is planned from 10 to 10:30 a.m. Friday. The restaurant will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., then settle into regular business hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, closed Sundays.

Online: mobettahs.com.

Michael Deeds is an entertainment reporter and columnist at the Idaho Statesman, where he also has been a sportswriter, entertainment editor and features editor. Deeds co-hosts “The Other Studio,” a one-hour music show, at 8 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.