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And created a rapidly expanding eatery rooted in faith, family and the joy of surfing.

How Art Hannemann co-founded Seven Brothers Burgers

And created a rapidly expanding eatery rooted in faith, family and the joy of surfing.
Art and Peggy Hannemann at the grand opening of Seven Brothers in Pleasant Grove, Utah. | Photo by Maready Media

The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.

In 2009, my family and I noticed an opportunity that didn’t appeal to many.

A little restaurant called Kahuku Grill went up for sale in the back of a gas station at the famous sugar mill in Kahuku, Oahu (Hawaii). It was truly a hole in the wall with not a lot of activity. After a seven-year run, the owner wanted to cut ties and return to the mainland. It was up for grabs.

Timing was on our side. As a family, we’d always wanted to work together at a restaurant of our own. We knew the ones that do it right make for great memories; when people are excited to come in and eat, it’s like visiting Disneyland.

Nobody thought much of this restaurant at first. Even my own family told me it wasn’t wise to buy it. But after praying about it, my wife Peggy and I felt differently. We envisioned ourselves doing very well. 

Aligning the business with family values 

In my former career as an organizational development consultant, I traveled the country teaching leadership and turning good into best. When this restaurant came up, I saw it as a great opportunity for our family to work on something together and turn the business into something unbelievable.

In short order, the restaurant was ours. My family finally caught a glimpse of what I saw and got on board. All seven of our sons were stoked to get involved. We were trained on how to cook and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. We offered those meals six days a week for about a month before realizing something: Our family moved from California to Hawaii for one reason — to spend more time in the water, surfing as a family, a passion we share. 

With the new restaurant venture, our schedule changed drastically. We were there at five o’clock in the morning and left after midnight. No one was getting in the water and surfing. A change needed to happen.

In the food business, you can make a lot of bad decisions that lead to wasted time and money. Customers can get upset. But when breakfast was nixed altogether in favor of shorter hours and a simpler menu, we saw our business grow. Things took off.

And created a rapidly expanding eatery rooted in faith, family and the joy of surfing.
The seven Hannemann brothers from left to right: Spencer, Sterling, Shez, Max, Seth, Seek and Shem. | Photo by Maready Media

A few years later, Peggy and I wanted to change the name of the restaurant. Because we had seven sons, we thought calling it Seven Brothers would align with our family and values. When we pitched our idea to the boys, they didn’t like it and felt it drew too much attention to them. But this new business was about our family; a family that works together, prays and plays together. Gratefully, it stuck. The new name helped us develop stronger relationships with one another, something greater than friendship.

Fifteen years later, we’re more than just that one restaurant in Kahuku, Oahu. We’re franchising, and rapidly. We have eight locations across Hawaii, Utah and Arizona, with another five on the way. Our entire family is involved, including many of our 24 grandchildren and our beautiful daughters-in-law. It keeps us closer. It gives us a second talking point at family gatherings — right behind surfing.

We don’t do cheap

At all Seven Brothers locations, we try to create a culture that focuses on three pillars to help guide us. 1) We’re Christ-centered. 2) We’re family-focused. And 3) We’re passionate about making and serving food that will blow our customers away! When we treat our amazing associates with care, love and tremendous interest, they feel the same for those who have chosen to eat at Seven Brothers. That means a lot to us. 

We haven’t always been perfect at being Christlike, but we’re getting better. We don’t raise our voices. We don’t demean anyone. We try to follow the principles as taught by the Savior: to love one another, turn the other cheek, be kind and go the extra mile. Those are principles we’ve incorporated since the beginning.

Part of serving customers right means we don’t go cheap on the food we offer. Many would-be vendors have tried selling us cheaper lettuce, tomatoes and meat. Not only is much of that processed, it doesn’t reflect who we are.

In our early days, we were approached by vendors trying to sell us frozen hamburger patties and lettuce that were already cut up and bagged. Making changes like that would have saved us an amazing amount of money, but when you start cutting costs like that, the customer loses. 

I said that if we chose to do that, we may as well lock up the doors and walk away. I can’t get passionate about frozen patties and bagged lettuce. We’d be getting away from what we decided to do originally: making food for our customers the same way we made food for our family.

And created a rapidly expanding eatery rooted in faith, family and the joy of surfing.
Photo by Maready Media

“Our restaurants, no matter where they are, will always be about the people for whom we create meals and experiences.”

It goes far beyond lower prices for us. In fact, much of what we provide tends to be more expensive, including buying avocados directly from the farm. We’ve tried to stay true to our beliefs about making quality food for our customers.

Success is important, but everything we do is for our customers and those that work for us. We make five-star food, provide five-star service, strive for five-star cleanliness, create a five-star feeling and boast five-star speed. It’s possible, and we haven’t always been good in every area, but we’ve made it our habit to improve and do our best in all five areas.

Connecting with people can go a long way in this industry, and we choose to always keep that intact. We want to connect. We want you to feel the warmth and goodness in our restaurants. Hopefully, it feels like you’re at our house, where we serve you, clean your table and always ask what we can do for you. That’s the relationship we’re fostering. We’re not always good at it, but we try to make that our standard. We never want to become disconnected from that feeling for others as we grow.

A divine hand

Remember that God knows everything, even in business. We’re religious people. It’s the way we live. I was brought up in a home where we prayed together every morning and night.

Raising our family of seven boys, my wife and I wanted to make sure they made good choices for the right reasons. That meant creating an atmosphere in our home that was centered on Christ. Every Sunday, we went to church together. We kept the Sabbath day holy and served others. We prayed together, had Family Home Evening every Monday and shared scriptures throughout the week. It was an ongoing attempt to live by seeking first the Kingdom of God. 

The interesting part of that is, when you believe God knows everything, you worry less about the future of your business. I think we can get hung up on believing otherwise. There are 33 eateries around our original Seven Brothers restaurant in Hawaii; when we started, there were just three. How can we succeed when there are so many other choices surrounding us? But when you believe that God knows all things, it doesn’t matter whether there are 33 or 100 restaurants around. You can succeed if you have faith. If you’re doing right by God and doing right by the people you serve, you’re going to be OK. You can give your worries a rest.

Whenever a problem we couldn’t solve came our way, we prayed about it, even if it had to do with hamburgers! That may sound silly, but it isn’t, especially when you have a lot of differing opinions on how to move forward.

And created a rapidly expanding eatery rooted in faith, family and the joy of surfing.
Photo by Maready Media

When you pray about a problem, it shifts and starts to feel more right than it once did. When we created our Deep Blue burger, for example, it took us three months of prayerful consultation, but it was 100 percent worth it. I did that one right. It involved a lot of random taste tests, too, but we finally landed on a real staple of our menu that’s never left it: crumbled blue cheese melted on the patty, topped with two crispy strips of bacon, Swiss cheese, BBQ sauce, house sauce and ranch.

We have always believed, “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and He will direct thee for good.” This is a people business. We make decisions with the customers we serve in mind. 

Every customer matters

Don’t take your eye off your customers. Don’t be so focused on the bottom line and making money that you lose track of why you’re in business. It’s about the person that walks in that door, which can be an emotional experience. They chose us over all the choices they had. How can you not be grateful for that? Don’t take them for granted. We don’t get lost in the numbers or money because it’s not about that and never has been.

Our restaurants, no matter where they are, will always be about the people for whom we create meals and experiences. That’s why we’re here. It’s why we wake up in the morning. Our restaurants are not just boxes with tables and chairs — there’s warmth there, and a feeling of love and gratitude. We appreciate those who eat with us and will make them feel like they belong.

Seven Brothers is a lot bigger than us, which means we no longer have to worry about operations or money. We now have people smarter than us to keep us on track. It’s incredible we are growing the way we are, and we give thanks to God every day for making that possible.

The hope is that we do this very slowly. Simplicity drives us: Getting to catch morning waves on our boards in shorts and T-shirts; hanging out in old jeans and wearing slippers. There’s not much else to us. We love our family and being together, we love surfing, and we love the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those are the real things that matter. That’s how we’re designed. 

And created a rapidly expanding eatery rooted in faith, family and the joy of surfing.
Server at the grand opening of Seven Brothers in Pleasant Grove, Utah. | Photo by Maready Media

The reasoning behind every stylistic choice and menu item at Seven Brothers Burgers circles back to when a California girl met a Samoan surfer and got married back in 1976. After adding seven sons to their family, Art and Peggy Hannemann worked to instill good family values and a hard work ethic in their boys. When they decided to buy a hole-in-the-wall burger joint in Kahuku, Oahu in 2009, they were overwhelmed. How on earth could they manage to translate a lifetime of wisdom and family into one small restaurant? Nonetheless, they made it happen. Seven Brothers Burgers has eight restaurants nationwide, with five additional locations scheduled to open in 2024.