‘It’s like an old friend’: Wailana Coffee House serves up its final meals

The restaurant grew to be a landmark in Waikiki.
It was a full house for the final night, Sunday.
It was a full house for the final night, Sunday.(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Oct. 15, 2018 at 6:28 AM HST
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WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The end of dinner service at 10 p.m. Sunday brought the end of an era in Waikiki; Wailana coffee house closed its doors for good.

Diners who were there for the final dinner rush weren’t just there for the food — they were hungry to hold on to their final memories of the landmark restaurant. The line stretched out the door filled with people eager to get a table.

Frank Harris was among the final customers. He decided to have dinner with his mom.

“She’s been taking me here since I was a baby,” Harris said. “43 years,” his mom added.

The iconic 24-hour Waikiki restaurant announced the end of business late August and was originally set to close at the end of September. But once the lines started forming in anticipation of the closure, the owners got the hint and stayed open for two weeks longer.

“I am really sad,” customer Jessica Rich said. “We’re coming here to pay our respects to a business that’s been around a long time. It’s like you think she’s always gonna be here and then all of a sudden...”

Back when the diner started, hamburgers were just 20 cents. There were no hotels around. And eventually, Don Ho became a regular.

When the original owner Francis Tom passed away, the business was passed down in the family with his three kids taking over. Son Kenton Tom was working in the kitchen on the final night.

“The owners, they’re good people. They’re good. I’m sad to see this happen, but I guess things get old so you gotta move on,” Lito Agcaoili said.

The Tom family still owns the property on Ala Moana Boulevard, but facing a much-needed renovation that could cost a million dollars, they decided to fold. Rising maintenance costs are mostly to blame for the fall of family-run businesses like Wailana all over Hawaii.

In 1947, Wailana was born as a concession stand at the Honolulu Zoo. In 1949, the stand moved into its current location under the name Kapiolani Drive Inn. Two decades later, it underwent more changes and took on the name Wailana Coffee House, as it is known today.

The owners haven’t decided yet exactly what to do with the space.

“There are a lot of people who love this restaurant and we’re really sorry to see it closing tonight (because) it’s not just a restaurant — it’s like an old friend,” Rich said with tears in her eyes.

The Tom family expects to eventually lease the space to a new tenant.

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