Lorna Jeyte clearly remembers the evening her chef didn’t show up for work. It was just three months after she and husband Albert opened Kilauea Lodge. She needed to be the restaurant’s hostess that night, so Albert donned an apron and assumed command of the kitchen.
"I was panicked," Jeyte recalled, "but he followed the recipes and everything turned out pretty good. Of course, each table had to wait three hours for their food, and I was giving away free wine like mad. After that, Albert went through intensive training at a culinary school in France, and he returned home as our chef."
The genial couple has many memorable stories to share about Kilauea Lodge, which Jeyte describes as "a great adventure" that began with their purchase of the property on their honeymoon in December 1986.
Gateway to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
» Where: 19-3948 Old Volcano Road, Volcano Village, Big Island. It’s a mile away from the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
» Nightly rates: $170 to $185, double occupancy, including a full breakfast. The lodge also offers accommodations in two nearby vacation homes ($200 to $220). Kamaaina receive a 10 percent discount.
» Phone: 967-7366
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» Website: www.kilauealodge.com
» Notes: The Kipuka Room can accommodate up to 30 people for private functions. Weddings can be held in the gazebo and on the front lawn. To preserve the peaceful ambience, there are no phones or televisions in the rooms. They do have Wi-Fi access, and Hale Hoola, within walking distance, is an excellent full-service spa.
At the time, Albert, an Emmy-winning makeup artist, was working for the TV show "Magnum, P.I.," starring Tom Selleck. Recalled Jeyte: "He told me Tom was thinking of ending the series, and if that was the case, we would need to relocate to Los Angeles so he could find more work. I replied that I had no intention of living in Los Angeles, especially since I had an 11-year-old son whose dad also lived in Hawaii.
"So Albert said we’d better find a new vocation – one that the two of us could do together. My older son was going to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire at the time, and during our visits there, Albert and I became enamored of the country inn concept."
The Jeytes’ real estate agent was running the bed-and-breakfast in Volcano Village where they were honeymooning. She suggested they consider buying the former YMCA camp down the road (see sidebar).
"We took one look at the place and fell in love," Jeyte said. "We made an offer in the afternoon on Dec. 31, it got accepted by that evening and we flew back to Honolulu to announce to our kids and my mom that we were moving to the Big Island to open a lodge. How brave we were!"
Although the Jeytes didn’t have any experience in the hospitality industry, Albert had learned the basics of operating a small business from his father, an entrepreneur in Germany. Jeyte was a teacher who brought to the table her interests in food and decorating, practice in setting and attaining goals and objectives, and strong writing and organizational skills.
Pooling their talents, they opened Kilauea Lodge in March 1988. Exuding a rustic charm, its 12 rooms feature earth tones; Hawaiian quilt bedcovers; fresh flowers picked on site; and photos, prints and paintings by Volcano artists. Eight of the rooms have fireplaces.
Guests enjoy relaxing in the hot tub; the spacious Common Room, which is furnished with a fireplace, games, books and a TV for watching volcano videos; and the restaurant, which has won numerous accolades for Albert’s Continental cuisine enlivened with local flavors.
FROM WARTIME ‘Y’ TO HIGH-END LODGE
Kilauea Lodge was originally a 10-acre YMCA camp named Hale o Aloha that was built in 1938. The old camp’s lodge is now its restaurant. Of note in the dining room is the Fireplace of Friendship made of stones, coins and artifacts that Harold Lucas, the camp’s first director, collected from friends in 32 countries (see whether you can find the dinosaur vertebra, tomahawk and kukui nut grinder).
The military began using Hale o Aloha as the headquarters for its bivouac and secretarial pools in 1942, soon after the U.S. entered World War II. From 1945, when the war ended, through the 1950s, it once again was a retreat for the YMCA, 4-H and other children’s groups. In 1962 the YMCA decided to sell the camp to help defray the costs of rebuilding its facilities in Hilo, which had been destroyed by the 1960 tsunami.
Bill and Virginia Dicks, a couple from Oahu, purchased the property and renamed it Volcano Lodge. They operated it as a lunch spot decorated with fine art and gift items, all made on the Big Island and available for sale. Albert and Lorna Jeyte bought Volcano Lodge in 1986, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A native of Hamburg in northern Germany, Albert discovered his penchant for the culinary arts when he and Jeyte were dating. "We were going to have friends for dinner, and Albert asked if he could do the cooking," Jeyte recalled. "He had never cooked before, but I said, ‘Sure! Why don’t you make my recipe for paella?’ It was fabulous! Next, he made a wonderful sukiyaki for 10 people, and he’d never even eaten it before. Then came Bananas Foster, Beef Tournedos and Caesar salad."
Everything at Kilauea Lodge Restaurant is prepared from scratch. Albert makes sauces and salsas from his own recipes, buys fresh fish daily from Hilo and gets most of the produce from local sources. The German dishes are his aunt’s recipes. House specialties include ostrich schnitzel with a lemon caper sauce; antelope and buffalo burgers; and French toast made from Punaluu Bakery’s guava, taro and original sweet bread.
For dinner the names of guests celebrating birthdays and anniversaries are printed on the menu, their table is festooned with balloons and servers gather around to serenade them a cappella.
"There’s real aloha here," Jeyte said. "We have a fantastic staff that we call ohana. Our guests come from all over the world, and no matter where they’re from, we want them to feel like they’re at home, among old friends, when they’re with us."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.