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Costly renovations to force the closure of historic Waikiki restaurant

HONOLULU (KHON2) - After 48 years, Wailana Coffee House will close its doors on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018.

Co-owner Kenton Tom tells KHON2  that the decision wasn't easy. 

"After 48 years, the family has decided to close the restaurant because it faces very extensive renovations to be made to be competitive," Tom said. 

He says the new renovations would cost about $1 million. 

He explains that the family still owns the land, and "has decided to look at other options for the property."

The 24-hour Waikiki diner employs about 100 people. 

"It's a very sad, sad moment." Tom said. "We've had employees that have worked 30-plus years for us and they've helped make the restaurant so successful."

As for their reaction?

"Complete silence—that was their reaction. Very sad, we're sad for them too but they're working through it," Tom added.

Addy Rechirei has been working at Wailana for 12 years.

"(I was) shocked, sad—I'm still shocked," she said.

"Twelve years, they're my family," she said as she began to tear up. 

A Wailana regular was sad to hear the news.

"I saw it on Instagram that it was closing, I was really hoping it was fake news but it was real, and it's really sad. It's such a shame that it's closing," Tommy Garibaldi said. 

The popular restaurant has been a favorite for tourists too. 

"I had a phone call from California and a customer called and said he couldn't believe it and asked if we could stay open longer for him since he's coming back at end of the year," Tom said. 

The history of Wailana Coffee House dates back to the late 1940s. 

Kenton explains that his father first opened a concession stand at Honolulu Zoo in 1947.

He then bought the land where Wailana Coffee House sits today. 

"He (my dad) bought this area about 1951, everyone thought he was crazy," Tom said laughing. 

"There was no Hilton Hawaiian Village, no Ala Moana Boulevard, just a coral road. But he bought the land and he built the drive-in, Kapiolani Drive-Inn, he had car hop service—it was very popular at that time. Then in the late 60s, he got together with Bruce Stark and they developed Wailana Condominium and this restaurant." 

Kenton Tom says when his father passed away 15 years ago, he and his siblings—Malcom and Joanna, became the owners. 

The diner also featured a bar and karaoke at night. Regulars say they loved coming in for all-you-can-eat pancakes at 2 a.m.

Rechirei and Tom say they will miss all their regulars, "they're a part of our family, a part of us," they said. 

Once the news broke of the closure, Tom said he didn't know how much of an impact the diner had on people over the last five decades. 

"We've had lots of phone calls all day, I was very, very surprised. I didn't think people would notice that much."

The co-owner says they will be offering a kamaaina discount during its last week. 


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