Loyal patrons returned
to Wailana Coffee House
on Sunday to savor their foreshortened time with the modest, Polynesian-themed restaurant, which will soon become a wistful memory.
Co-owner Kenton Tom told KHON2 that the family decided to close the restaurant at the end of next month because it needs about $1 million in renovations. His family, which owns the land beneath
the restaurant, will look
at other options for the property, he said.
The restaurant, which started as a concession at the Honolulu Zoo in 1947, was re-established at its current location at the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Ena Road as Kapiolani Drive Inn. It had a dining counter, carhop service
and parking for 100 cars.
When business began flagging, Tom’s father, Francis, re-branded the business as a family diner, opening Wailana Coffee House in 1969.
Garrett Murata, 40, of
McCully said he’s been eating at the diner for 30 years because of his fondness for the meatloaf. When he was living in Waikiki, he dined there three times a week. Now a McCully resident, he eats at Wailana less frequently — once a week — but each time, whether he’s there for breakfast, lunch
or dinner, he orders the meatloaf meal.
“It’s always consistently very good and a good value,” he said.
He said he can’t beat
the price of $18.95, which includes the meatloaf, salad bar, drink, dinner roll and ice cream dessert.
One time Murata, feeling adventuresome, ordered the steak, but he quickly
realized he would go back to the meatloaf.
He stopped at the coffee house Sunday for lunch with his friend Dexton Dalan of Salt Lake after hearing about the restaurant’s impending closure.
“It’s going to be sad because all these local places are closing,” Dalan said. He said he missed the Shore Bird Restaurant and Beach Bar, which closed its doors in September at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach
Resort after a 38-year run.
On Sunday, Murata requested to sit with one of his favorite servers, who
he said is always nice and quick on his feet. He said
he was sympathetic for
the restaurant’s roughly
One of those employees was Carol Cochran,
who worked a combined
40 years at the restaurant, not including some breaks in between when she was living on the mainland.
She said she appreciated how the owners were
kind and flexible with
her work schedule,
and enjoyed the friendly customers and staff.
She said the owners announced the closure to
employees Thursday during a pre-scheduled meeting
after the restaurant closed in preparation for then-Hurricane Lane.
She suspected the
restaurant would undergo changes in the future with the owners working so hard, but the announcement still came as a surprise.
Cochran, who lives in Waikiki, said she enjoys working at the restaurant, perpetually saying “hi”
to her customers she sees on the street while walking to work.
“Things change in life,” she said, adding that she supported the owner’s
Another server, Dru
Merkey-Thorstad, said she was grateful to have the
opportunity to work four years at the diner.
“We’ve all got the same goal in customer service and making people happy,” she said. “We all get along well. It’s more like my family than my co-workers.”
Bruce Levy, a Florida resident vacationing in Hawaii, hadn’t heard about the restaurant’s planned closure and was enjoying his habitual Sunday breakfast of all-you-can-eat pancakes.
The real estate seller has been a patron of the restaurant for 16 years, stopping there once a week during his summer vacations in Hawaii to escape Florida’s heat and enjoy the islands’ surf.
“It’s got a good vibe,” he said. “This is my only breakfast place. (The news) is bumming out. I don’t understand why.
“I’m going to quit coming to Hawaii,” he added. “It’s over.”
In the cocktail lounge, where the bar’s numerous TVs were tuned to football, Kimo Mansfield was seated at his regular stool at the end of the bar with his
merlot wine bottle adorned with an aloha shirt and straw hat and his hand-painted wine glass. Both were given to him by the bar staff for his 79th birthday in July.
He said he is fond of the bar because of the people, the music, the bartenders and the servers. The bar staff will hold his seat for him, knowing he always shows up on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
He said customers come from all over the world and regularly stop at the bar when they come to Hawaii because it’s a fun place and they can hang out with local residents.
“We met so many beautiful people from all over the world,” he said. “They’re going to have a shock
because winter’s coming around and when they come here, this bar’s not going to be here.”