Thursday, November 26, 2015         


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Wailana was once a drive-in

KDI served hungry patrons for 20 years till it gave way to the famed coffeehouse

By Bob Sigall

Special to the Star-Advertiser


Today we know it as Wailana Coffee House, but before 1969 it was Kapiolani Drive Inn.

Mary and Francis Tom built it on the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Ena Road in 1949, when it was considered the outskirts of Waikiki. The drive-in actually started at the zoo in 1947, and moved when a fence was erected, which prevented cars from driving up.

KDI, as it was known, could hold more than 100 cars. A line often snaked out onto the street on weekend nights, after proms or when it held its famous five-hamburgers-for-$1 specials. Carhops would take your order and serve you in your car.

A sign atop the building had a swaying hula maiden and a guy strumming the ukulele in neon at night.

In 1969 the Toms saw drive-ins diminishing in popularity and transformed KDI into Wailana Coffee House and the 24-story condominium above it. "Wailana" means to float on water, like a water lily.

Developer Bruce Stark suggested it.


Bob Sigall, author of "The Companies We Keep" books, looks through his collection of old photos to tell stories each Friday of Hawaii people, places and companies. Email him at

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