VOLCANO >> A historic piece of Volcano Village is for sale.
Kilauea Lodge, a landmark hotel and restaurant that was originally a YMCA camp, was put on the market recently with an asking price of $5.9 million.
Owners Lorna and Albert Jeyte, who transformed the establishment, formerly known as the Volcano Lodge restaurant, into an award-winning country inn, say the business has been their life for more than a quarter century and they are hoping to retire and spend more time with family.
“It’s time for us to go on and let someone else bring some new innovations into it,” said Albert, 75, who is also the lodge’s chef.
It’s not for lack of ideas of their own.
After already renovating much of the 76-year-old, 12-room lodge, adding rooms, a hot tub, gardens and gazebo, all while maintaining the location’s old Hawaii charm, the couple still has a long list of potential projects for the property, including additional cottages and a bar.
“We are thinking even someone can do some agriculture,” said Lorna, 74.
“They were growing lettuce up here during the war time. Lettuce grows really well here.
“.Who knows. Maybe they want to have free range chickens up there.”
There’s plenty of room for it.
The lodge sits on 10 acres of mostly forested land.
While there’s room for growth, the Jeytes say they will only sell to someone who values conservation.
“It’s important to us the forest gets to be preserved and new people have an idea of preservation,” Albert said.
“We don’t want someone to come in with a bulldozer and take out everything.”
Without the trees, there’s no native birds, said Lorna.
In addition to the plantation craftsman architecture, the chorus of birds chirping in branches all around is one of the first things visitors notice.
“If they (trees) are gone, you don’t have the native birds here,” Lorna said.
Once inside, guests are treated to a pleasant upcountry setting with a unique, large fireplace as the main room’s centerpiece.
Known as the Fireplace of Friendship, it contains stones, coins and other artifacts the original camp director collected from friends in 32 countries.
Lorna said that is what first caught their attention when visiting the lodge on their honeymoon in 1986.
At the time, there was a pingpong table in the middle of the room and the original hardwood floor, now exposed, was covered by carpet.
“We went over and we stood in front of that fireplace and we went, ‘Wow, that’s an amazing piece of history, that fireplace,’ she said. “We looked around and we saw that kitchen, we looked at the other two cottages on the property . and there was an apartment downstairs that was livable. We decided we could make this work so we put in an offer.”
Neither had hospitality experience but it was a challenge they embraced wholeheartedly.
“What made it work I think was showing a lot of aloha and just trying to do the best,” Albert said.
Add in a willingness to take risks and assume new roles.
Originally from Germany, Albert was a Emmy-winning makeup artist who had just finished working on the set of Magnum P.I.
He soon found himself with a new title after their chef became ill shortly after they reopened the lodge in 1988.
“There was no one else really there,” Albert said. “That’s when I jumped in.”
He put on the chef’s hat and he has not taken it off since. Albert would go on to win awards for his cooking, a blend of European and local-style cuisine, though the first dinner was a bit rocky to say the least.
“That night he popped his head out of the kitchen: ‘Lorna, tell me what a white sauce is again.’ And I’m like oh my God,” Lorna said, both of them laughing.
They ended up serving a lot of free drinks that night, they recalled.
“When he decided he was going to cook, that he wanted to cook, I told him, ?But you don’t know how to cook.’ I always had been the cook,” Lorna said. “He said, ‘No, but I can learn,’ which is always Albert’s attitude about everything, except swimming.”
His crash course in cooking included time in Europe where he learned the basics of French cuisine.
“It was nothing but reading cook books for the next few years,” Albert said.
Time away from the lodge was spent visiting other country inns elsewhere in Europe, Africa and the mainland to get new ideas.
“The learning never stopped,” Albert said. “It was always observing, observing, observing.”
It was on a trip to South Africa that gave them the idea to serve ostrich. But Lorna notes they’ve made sure never to stray away from Hawaii when it came to decor.
“What we tried here was to be upcountry Hawaiian style,” she said. “In the ’40s, I remember well, my Big Island years, that’s the style of the old homes . That’s what I wanted, that look.”
“We always stuck with more earthy things and Hawaiiana prints,” Lorna said. “It’s all Hawaiiana in the rooms.”
The couple said they have no deadline for selling the lodge and will run it until they have a buyer.
But once they find someone who wants to take it on, they say they will be able to let go knowing they put in all that they could.
“I can look back and say we accomplished something,” Albert said.
“All good things come to an end.”