Employees, homeowners reflect on Ilikai Hotel's closure

Doug Okuda
Doug Okuda
Al Brandle
Al Brandle

By Leland Kim - bio | email

WAIKIKI (KHNL) - The Ilikai Hotel officially shut its doors Thursday after serving Waikiki for 45 years. But its condos and timeshares will continue to operate.

Its owners say they could no longer continue operating the hotel while losing several hundred thousand dollars a month. Employees and condo owners say the place will never be the same.

The Ilikai Hotel served as an iconic symbol of Waikiki in the opening sequence of the TV series "Hawaii Five-0." It was a very popular spot for visitors from all over the world.

"I hear a lot about it over and over," said Doug Okuda, an Iliaki employee. "I grew up watching 'Hawaii Five-0' and I can relate to what they're saying and I remember that shot, but I had no idea I'd ever work at this hotel."

That's exactly what Okuda did, serving customers at the Ilikai for 27 years.

"I love the job that I do right now," he said. "I'm just hoping someday I can find a job similar to this elsewhere but I enjoy the job that I do as a bellman here."

Now that era has ended for the hotel and its 65 full time employees.

"We have this empty feeling like we've lost our best friend, like it's a funeral, you know," said Al Brandle, an Ilikai homeowner. "It's very hard to explain how you feel when this occurs especially this building was what it once was."

Brandle has lived at the Ilikai since 1991. He says this used to be a Waikiki hotspot.

"We had Hawaiian music, we had dancers out here," said Brandle. "The bar was humming, the restaurant, all the shops were going."

There was a very popular restaurant called Canoe's, and over here was a bridal shop, and back over this way was a jewelry store. All of these places have been vacant for at least two years.

And now with the hotel closing, Brandle says a lot of the aloha has left his home.

"I'm going to miss the people," he said. "The people are what made it. The people made it what it once was, and what it was."

The hotel's 200+ rooms closed their doors for good at midnight Friday. The employees stay optimistic, hoping for a window of an opportunity soon.

"It's going to take a little extra perseverance, a little patience and a little luck, and eventually we'll find our niche out there," said Okuda.

The closure does not impact the 800 condos and time share units. Hotel owners don't know if and when it will reopen.