The Power of ‘Ohana: Meet 11 Local Families That Make Hawai‘i Great
Our Island families.
Hawai‘i has some of the greatest families around. Maybe it’s because we’re an island chain, and prize getting along for survival’s sake, but our ‘ohana knit us together. They form an invisible safety net, cushion us with their values. Some fight for justice, save endangered green spaces, others soothe our souls with music. So, we set out to celebrate families. Not by ranking or rating them, but by asking what has kept them together, vital and engaged—despite upheaval and change. We figured maybe we could learn from whatever they’re doing, and apply it to our own lives.
Preserving the Land
Generation after generation, the Morgans have kept Kualoa Ranch beautiful, undeveloped and economically viable.
Land doesn’t always mean power; sometimes, it paints a target on your back. John Morgan learned this first-hand in high school, when the City and County under Mayor Frank Fasi condemned his family’s house for what is now Kualoa Park. A few years later, when he was at Oregon State, his father bought a house, “in front of the surf spot right at Kualoa. I looked at the surf spot and looked at my passion for the ranch and said, ‘Dad, do you mind if I come back and try to make a career at the ranch?’”
The decision perhaps involved “a little hedonism,” he admits, but at the University of Hawai‘i he didn’t mess around, taking economics, Hawaiian language, agronomy and economics. “I was pretty deliberate about everything. Living out at Kualoa, knowing we’re a relatively big part of the community, I joined the neighborhood board, took part in the other boards, joined the Hawaiian Tropical Flowers Association, anything I thought was appropriate to be a better leader in the community.”
At UH he also met a student named Carri Kahn and married her. “That was it. I quit school and went to work.” A pause. “At least Carri,” now director of the Luke Center for Public Service at Punahou School, “got a degree.”
Today, Kualoa Ranch is a model of stewardship and treating a private asset in the best interests of the community. Instead of being chopped up for a one-time crop of houses, its great swath of unspoiled greenery and mountain range greets residents and visitors. Underlying the beauty is an imaginative economic engine, one that has shape-shifted over the decades without violating the spirit of the place.
“We have a long history of taking a long view of the future,” Morgan says. “Each generation has had a tremendous impact on who we are today. Dr. Judd started our legacy by buying the ahupua‘a of Kualoa from King Kamehameha III, in 1850. His son, Charles, bought the neighboring two ahupua‘a of Ka‘a‘wa and Hakipu‘u. One of his daughters, Julie, bought out her siblings to consolidate ownership. Without that move, we might have hundreds of owners today, and hundreds of value systems and hundreds of ideas of what should happen to the land.”
Each generation has dealt with different challenges. In the 1860s, lack of consistent rainfall doomed O‘ahu’s first sugar mill. Then came World War II, when the military took over Kualoa for coastal defense and an airstrip.
The default strategy with large landholders in Hawai‘i and elsewhere is to slice off pieces for development. Few can resist the immediate gratification of a cash-out. Not at Kualoa. “Our parents and grandparents,” says Morgan, “instilled in us the value of preserving the land, our heritage, and not treating it like an entitlement or a cash cow. A great example is my grandmother, the one who said, ‘No one should ever again build a personal house in the interior of the ranch.’ If one could, more would, and that would lead to a degradation of the pristine nature of the property and end up with people putting self-interest above that of the family, the company and the land.”
But the family also realized that preservation alone was a doomed strategy. “I started working at the ranch in 1971 as a teenager,” says Morgan, “and became manager in 1981. I was the first of my generation on the family board of directors and I remember my grandmother and great aunt saying that our business was unsustainable and that we needed to build a business that could provide the potential for growth that could provide financial stability in the future. They said that we should not sell, develop or release the land. We should run it ourselves. That led me to look into starting an outdoor recreation business. The rest is history.”
That history didn’t come easy. Horseback rides didn’t bring in enough. Some offerings—Jet Skis, a gun range—had their day. But the stunning film location led to Jurassic Valley, movie VIP and zipline tours; Taste of Kualoa tours celebrate ranch-grown cattle, taro and oysters (from the 800-acre fishpond). Morgan also turned away two more condemnation attempts in the 1980s by the city, one that would’ve taken the entire 4,000-acre ranch.
Specific survival strategies? Add more business people to the board, focus beyond Japanese tourists to local and Mainland markets, expand agriculture. “We approach all our diversification from the perspective of, ‘We have this parcel of land, what can we do with it to hopefully mālama the ‘āina, make it productive, serve a business purpose and, if possible, help the greater community?’”
As for passing on those values to a now widely extended family, the Morgans started a formal program 10 years ago to bring family to the ranch every third year. “We pay for people to come back,” says Morgan. “We get everybody familiar with the family business so they support it; we help them develop a close emotional relationship with the land; and we help develop relationships between people. The stronger those relationships are, the more we can weather.”
Morgan is proud there are four members of the seventh generation on the board of directors. He’s quick to praise his father, Francis, longtime president of the ranch. “I’ve got to give my father a lot of credit. His generation weathered many adverse situations and instilled in my generation the undying loyalty and commitment to the land and the company.”
Still, he admits his job has benefits. “Funny, but I feel like an artist with a huge ball of clay that you keep working on, this little piece and that little piece, making it a little bit better, and hopefully one day you’ll turn it over to somebody who will make it even better.” —DW
Getting the Job Done
Work hard and “avoid a big head.”
Look up the late financier Chinn Ho and you’ll find a string of “firsts,” as well as a lifetime of accomplishment and community commitment.
The self-made multimillionaire real-estate developer was the grandson of a rice farmer who grew up to become the first person of Chinese ancestry to become president of the Honolulu Stock Exchange. He is also credited with being the first Asian American to: sit on the board of a Big Five company; head the visitors bureau; manage a major landed estate (Robinson); and serve as principal owner of a major daily newspaper.
Son Stuart Ho carried on the legacy: real-estate developer, trustee, attorney, hospital executive, advocate for the retired. Through it all, the Ho family has remained personally grounded, never known as spotlight seekers.
Stuart worked throughout his life in highly regulated industries. “You learn at a very early time to keep your mouth shut,” he says.
He thinks that’s pretty typical of Island sensibilities. “I think people of whatever family are much more conscious of, and sensitive to, what their neighbors are doing and how they feel,” he says. “It just goes with part of living here. You try to avoid a big head.”
Stuart’s son Peter Ho, chairman and CEO of Bank of Hawai‘i, kept up the commitments, sitting on the boards of about a dozen organizations outside the bank. Daughter Cecily Ho Sargent is a restaurateur who has run businesses in Australia and Honolulu. Daughter Heather Ho, a pastry chef, died Sept. 11 in the World Trade Center attack.
Stuart Ho credits all his family members, especially the smart, powerful women who married into the family, and the children they raised together. “We’ve been fortunate that everyone in generations current and past don’t mind hard work; that includes my daughter as well as my son.”
At 81, he thinks changing times and the high cost of housing have made it harder to balance work and family: “I have nothing but respect and sympathy for families these days.” —RD
Sticking with Tradition in Kuli‘ou‘ou
One valley, 44 homes and 1,000 descendants.
It may take a village to raise a child, but in the Reeves family, the village is actually related.
Forty-four Kuli‘ou‘ou Valley houses are occupied by Reeves kin, who’ve called the valley home for eight generations.
At least 1,000 descendants trace their lineage to Charles Armistead Reeves and Rose Lokalia Miguel Reeves, who wed in 1903 and raised nine children.
Any celebration is likely to draw at least 300 guests, says great-granddaughter Keolani Noa, who has nine children of her own and lives on the original 9-acre family plot.
Family support is “automatic,” she says.
Her parents, Edward Correa and long-time matriarch “Auntie Sister” Naomi Correa, stressed the importance of lending a hand. It’s the Hawaiian way, says Nohea Colton, another great-granddaughter.
“Being a Hawaiian is loving, giving, and doing for each other and for other people,” says Colton, now 70. “You don’t judge other people. Whatever you got, you feed others. You share. That’s what they passed on to us.”
Recalling her happy childhood makes Noa’s eyes shiny: catching crabs for dinner, preparing Hawaiian food, and playing street football with her siblings and cousins. Noa remembers changing the diaper of her famous distant cousin, actor Keanu Reeves.
Over the years, the alley transformed from red dirt to pavement; houses expanded, and some relatives moved away. But Reeves customs have endured, thanks to traditions created by Auntie Sister, who passed away in 2008.
Take her Christmas pā‘ina, which began in the 1960s. Santa rides down the valley on a horse and greets hundreds of eager children and family members. There are gifts and a homemade feast as well as 300 S&S Saimin for the keiki.
Auntie Sister’s wood-frame house on Kuli‘ou‘ou Road welcomed many. And the mother of 14 “always had something on the table to eat,” Noa says. Daily visitors, some related, sought her company, wisdom, network and stew. Savvy Democratic politicians held coffee hours in her kitchen. “She was the ear of the valley,” says Noa.
Then there’s the annual “Reeves ‘Ohana Kuli‘ou‘oulympics,” now in its 25th year. At 9 a.m. one day in August, Noa summons families with a kāhea to march from their homes to Maunalua Bay. (They alert the rubbish crews in advance). By the time they reach Kuli‘ou‘ou Beach Park, hundreds gather, and they run relays, race canoes, eat doughnuts off strings, glide down slip-and-slides and play fierce volleyball.
No matter how competitive the games or heated the talk, the family stays close. “We’re not perfect but we help one another to the extreme, one way or another,” Colton says.
“You just do what is right,” Noa adds. —LEG
Authenticity and Reinvention
“Not a lot of stuff, but we had our ‘ukulele.”
Musician Keola Beamer recalls growing up, “music was in the air around us, all the time—our family was strongly involved in hula and there was always a need for music for the hula dancers.”
He adds, “we define our family in music, and a tremendous connection through Hawaiian culture, going back to the 13th century, probably.” Great-grandmother Helen Desha Beamer, renowned singer and dancer, taught hula to Keola’s mother, Winona “Nona” Beamer, who taught it to Keola. “We didn’t have a lot of stuff, but we had our ‘ukulele.”
“Auntie Nona” set quite an example. A willful teen who was twice expelled from Kamehameha Schools, for speaking Hawaiian and performing a standing hula, she went on to perform in Carnegie Hall, reportedly a first for a Native Hawaiian group, with cousin Mahi and uncle Keola. When she returned to teach at Kamehameha, she worked to establish Hawaiian studies, hula, the annual class song competition and more during her 40 years there. When an autocratic board of trustees began interfering in school affairs while paying themselves fat fees, a single letter she wrote to the state Supreme Court helped set in motion a wave of historic change.
Learning and playing alongside her, Keola and his brother, Kapono, would in turn help write the soundtrack of the 1970s cultural renaissance. Keola’s first recording, of slack-key guitar in the “Real Old Style,” led to his instructional book, a first for the genre. The Beamer Brothers branched out into pop, navigating market trends while embodying Hawaiian music. “The Beamer family is this huge, beautiful tree,” Keola explains. “It’s tempting to stay in the shade of that tree, to be in that world. But sometimes you have to choose your own tree, step out of the shade and grow your own way.” The phase culminated in “Honolulu City Lights,” a now iconic ode to the Islands.
In the 1990s, Keola returned to the real old style again, creating haunting ambitious suites, accompanied in performance by his dancer wife, Moanalani. He also started an annual cultural immersion retreat, the Keola Beamer Music Camp (which usually sells out the first week). He’s particularly proud of his recent preservation project.
“This is part of the Beamer legacy now,” Keola says. “My mom just loved this place, Kuamo‘o in Kona, an ancient Hawaiian place where a tremendous battle was fought in 1819.” With many helping hands, the Trust for Public Land, Office of Hawaiian Affairs and generous donors, “we were able to purchase this 49-acre parcel on the coast. I’m sort of a part-time caretaker and full-time CEO.”
And that’s a challenge of legacy families, he says: “To honor and cherish the past, try to find the, not courage, but artistic wherewithal to step beyond it. That is what I tell my students.” —DW
From Historic Houses to Heiau
Sam and Mary Cooke saved the old Hawai‘i they loved.
“My secret is noni,” says Mary Cooke, age 81, still on her feet after outlasting two visitors after a private tour of the Mānoa house that she and her late husband, Sam, turned into a trove of Hawaiian history. While her guests take a seat, Cooke explains how she puts the fruit in glass jars, lets it sweat in the sun and decants the essence into vials, quaffing one a day. “The taste is unpleasant,” she admits. Grinning impishly, she looks down at her much younger companions.
Nothing more needs to be said. We’re wimps.
Preservation as a way of life takes stamina for the long haul. Cooke ancestors are among the founders of Punahou School, as well as other Island institutions. Sam’s grandmother, Anna Rice Cooke, tore down her own home on Beretania Street in 1927 to build what is now the Honolulu Museum of Art. An aunt, Mabel Wilcox, inherited Grove Farm on Kaua‘i and would later advise the couple on their plans for creating the Mānoa Heritage Center’s house and 3.5 acres of grounds.
For Mary Cooke, preservation was something you lived. On Kaua‘i, where she was brought up, “My parents had just been through the Depression. We had trouble making ends meet at first and lived with my grandparents, in a wonderful home my grandfather built. Then, when my dad became plantation manager, we moved into one of the company’s old historic homes. I think that’s when I really began to love historic buildings.”
After she and Sam met as children at a wedding on Kaua‘i—“He was 10, I was 11 and thought his 14-year-old brother was more interesting”—the two boarded at Punahou, then, still just friends, attended Cornell University, where they began dating. They returned to Kaua‘i after marrying, where Sam managed the Kaua‘i Surf Hotel. Finding the hours incompatible with being an involved father to his daughters, he quit and became a stockbroker in Honolulu.
Sam’s impressive work ethic drew clients that included Harry Weinberg, but it was his civic involvement that was “unsurpassed,” says Kelvin Taketa, former president of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation. “Sam was first chairman of the board of the Nature Conservancy, not only a leader here but nationally. When the conservancy started in 1980, it didn’t take long for it to become clear that, if you cared about biological diversity, you had to care about Hawai‘i. Not only was Sam instrumental in taking that message to the kama‘āina who owned lands and were able to preserve them, he was able to spread that message nationally.”
The Cookes brought others into the fold. “For so many people who moved to Hawai‘i as newcomers, he was an ambassador for the Honolulu Museum of Art, as a place to get to meet people and to understand Hawai‘i. He and Mary really encouraged people to get involved.”
The impulse to restore instead of bulldoze led to the Mālama Mānoa association and the Mānoa Heritage Center, when Sam’s father inherited the 1911 Tudor in Mānoa. “He wanted to tear it down and develop the property,” Cooke recalls. “We said, ‘Oh no!’ We had to move in. So we bought it and we did.”
But staring at them from their rear terrace was a vast semi-wild garden which another family member had inherited and sold to a developer. “He carved it up into eight lots and was selling them.” A grove of rubber trees and a huge banyan haunted Sam. He’d played there as a child and knew what the root tangle concealed. “It was a heiau, the last of 14 in the ahupua‘a of Waikīkī. The other 13 had been torn down. So, we said, ‘We’ve got to buy that lot! Save that heiau!’”
They purchased the property. “We consulted with Nathan Napoka, a Native Hawaiian, on how to handle a sacred site. Had all the trees and brush removed. Found the sketches of the heiau done for Bishop Museum.” Then they reached Billy Fields, a Kona expert in heiau, who spent six weeks restacking the walls using only the stones from the area.
The heiau, Kūka‘ō‘ō, is now the centerpiece of the heritage center with a commanding view of Mānoa Valley, thanks to the two adjoining lots, also bought by the Cookes—“so it wouldn’t be hemmed in by mega-mansions,” says Cooke, dryly.
“This house goes to the heritage center, and the public, when I die,” she adds. “We realized we couldn’t give it to our three daughters,” she says. “It would tear them apart. They were surprised when they heard, but they came around when we told them what we were going to do.”
As a museum, it’s turnkey. The handsome half-timbered exterior doesn’t begin to prepare you for the richness within. In every glowing room, walls display wonderfully atmospheric paintings by artists of every nation and period, local scenes full of sunlit country clearings and shifty oceanic blues, commanding perspectives of early Honolulu in the square-rigger era to the first steam train chugging alongside rice paddies at Pālama. “The Hawai‘i we grew up loving,” she says. —DW
Stay Together, Play Together
One family. Nine UH athletes. Seven more on the way.
After bumping into each other when checking in for their team camps, University of Hawai‘i athletes Alvis Satele (football) and Lee Ann Pestana (volleyball) waited a couple of years to begin dating. By then, Alvis was a starring linebacker and Lee Ann and the Wāhine were on a run that produced back-to-back national championships. In 1986, on the day of Alvis’ first professional game with the Calgary Stampede of the Canadian Football League, the two wed. “We got married before the game, and celebrated after,” says Lee Ann. (The Stampede won.)
A job on the docks was waiting for Alvis when he returned home after winding up his pro career. He worked long hours, often taking the 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift. “It’s hard on the body, but I’m blessed to have the job. My only complaint is that I couldn’t help Lee Ann raise the kids more.”
Yes, the kids. Soon there were five; a long-range plan awaited them. “It was something we saw when they were very little,” says Lee Ann. “They would go to college, be Division I athletes, hopefully with scholarships, graduate with degrees, and become good citizens and prosperous ones.”
All learned to play by Satele rules. “Our parents were married to one person and were very hard workers, and they passed those traits to us,” says Lee Ann, now a vessel entrance and clearance specialist with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Anything we do, we do 110 percent. Absolutely no fighting among ourselves; there are enough people out there who will want to fight with you. Since they were little, they know to leave family with a kiss, and to greet everyone with a kiss. When you get off the phone, you say, ‘I love you.’”
Lee Ann soon decided the family would not let Alvis’ work schedule stand between them. “We celebrated our birthdays, our achievements, down there on the docks with Alvis on his lunch hour.” Alvis laughs ruefully: “You just don’t see that; wives aren’t allowed, but my wife didn’t care.”
Lee Ann became the coach of their teams. “I wanted to create the environment of the sports they were in.” She laughs. “And pick their friends.”
Football player Brashton was the first child of UH athlete parents to attend UH on a full-ride scholarship, according to Derek Inouchi, UH director of media relations. Brashton married Joy Saleapaga, who ran track for UH. They have two children and Brashton works with his father on the docks. Landon, “Liko,” played football for three years and now works at Hawaiian Electric; he has two children. Alvis Jr., “AJ,” played baseball at UH Hilo and married UH volleyball player and former Miss Hawai‘i Raeceen Woolford; they have two children and another on the way. Chanteal played volleyball; this year she married football player Marcus Malepeai (whose cousin of the same name played in the ’90s). The one who got away? “Everett, he’s a mechanic,” Lee Ann says. “He didn’t go into sports. He was around machines a lot with my father.”
The grandkids have their work cut out for them. “The goal is, this generation got their degrees and one master’s,” says Lee Ann. “The next generation, we will expect masters’ and doctorates.”
Reflections? “I’ve always wished my wife had a nicer wedding,” says Alvis. “But we’ve been married now for 30 years, so I guess it came out all right.” —DW
Ingenuity and Integrity
From retail to tech, film and antiaging therapies, the Watumulls make their mark.
When visitors to Bishop Museum recline their seats to watch galaxies pinwheel overhead at the J. Watumull Planetarium, they can thank their stars for a budding retail genius from Hyderabad: Jhamandas, who dreamed up an empire based in Honolulu but sent his younger brother, Gobindram (“G.J.”) to run it.
Jhamandas stayed in the Far East to source goods for the East India Store and, soon, to open branches in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Canton and elsewhere. But in 1922, the Watumull story became about so much more than retail, when G.J. and Ellen Jensen, a Hanahau‘oli School music teacher, decided love could conquer racist laws. Marrying took ingenuity. They traveled in separate ships to California, where they had to search for a court that wouldn’t refuse them a license. When they succeeded, Ellen was promptly stripped of her U.S. citizenship.
Proving that activism and commerce can also mix, and profitably, back in Hawai‘i the Watumull stores grew in number. The couple also joined efforts that, after decades, did succeed in amending and then ending national racial restrictions. Ellen worked closely with Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. His grandparents’ examples would inspire a grandson, Rann, who has combined community service with entrepreneurship. In fact, he says, “Philanthropy is our business.”
Meanwhile, their union blessed the stores with creativity and a local focus. When the first aloha shirts debuted in the 1930s, G.J. asked Ellen’s artist sister, Elsie Das, to work with him on a Watumull variation, one that used Hawaiian designs. “They felt they could market for the Lurline crop,” says their eldest grandson, David, referring to the beloved tourist liners that introduced well-off travelers to the Islands.
The Watumull stores prospered in an age of emporiums: shopping as entertainment. Even World War II led to expansion, as the family’s shirt-makers turned to sewing camouflage and the stores, led by Jhamandas’ son Rama, sourced Mainland goods to serve civilians and the military. Post-war, anticipating a boom in the U.S. and the breakup of India, Jhamandas relocated to Honolulu to join Rama and another son, Gulab. Differences over company direction arose after Rama died in an air crash; Jhamandas split the business in 1955, keeping retail for himself and Gulab, while G.J. and Ellen took over real estate.
Both sides saw the jet-age tourist boom coming. The retail Watumulls went in hot pursuit of the tourist market, the store becoming one of the first 10 tenants of the new Ala Moana Shopping Center in 1959. By 1971, there were 29 stores under various names. At one point, 95 percent of Watumull sportswear was designed and manufactured in Hawai‘i.
In 1957, G.J. created Hawaiian Paradise Park, one of the first subdivisions on the Big Island ($100 down and $20 a month). But his untimely death in 1959 cut short his plans.
Retail magic faded nationwide in the 1990s. But, once again, the family saw the shift coming, moving into real estate on the Mainland. Meanwhile, Jhamandas endowed Island educational institutions, including the University of Hawai‘i, Chaminade and Hawai‘i Pacific University, as well as the Honolulu Museum of Art, a special concern of Indru, Gulab’s wife.
Today there is only one store remaining, in Ala Moana Center. But, as sometimes happens with great families, just as things finally seem to be quieting down, a new generation flexes its muscles. Since the 1970s, Rann, currently president of Hawai‘i Film Partners, has partnered with his wife, Gina. They’ve developed software, helped spark the first solar energy wave, created the video-enabled security system for the airport and then segued into film and animation. Having honed their vision on projects for the Korean and Japanese markets, the couple will debut their latest series, Guardians of the Masks, on the Starz channel this fall.
Even their philanthropy has a tech edge: He’s a nine-year director of Child & Family Service, which, along with its fostering and counseling programs, matches donated frozen embryos to prospective parents. More traditionally, for 19 years he’s been president of the River of Life Foundation, supporting the Chinatown mission that feeds, clothes and counsels the homeless.
In January, Rann’s older brother, David, president and CEO of biopharmaceutical startup Cardax, concluded an 11-year research effort with the market launch of a new anti-inflammatory compound, astaxanthin CDX-085. Faced with spending years and millions trying to gain Food and Drug Administration approval as a drug, Watumull led Cardax on a more direct path, marketing it as an over-the-counter supplement, ZanthoSyn. After obtaining the cooperation of 80 Hawai‘i physicians and health providers who successfully treated 100,000 patients, it was picked up by GNC for 29 stores in Hawai‘i, aiming for a national rollout.
In March, David took the stage with UH John A. Burns School of Medicine scientists to announce an animal study showed the compound could also significantly increase the expression of a longevity gene, FOXO3. In June, the National Institutes of Health announced that it had selected ZanthoSyn for a key research program that will evaluate its antiaging properties. This puts the product “into a very elite club of compounds that have the potential to become true antiaging therapies,” says Dr. Bradley Wilcox, director of geriatric medicine research at JABSOM and principal investigator.
Looking back on the wisdom of Jhamandas settling in the Islands, David Watumull says, “Hawai‘i lets people be who they are. If you’re up to it, you can do it here.” —DW
Under the Big Tent
Walking the entertainment tightrope.
With 12-hour workdays, busy seasons that last for weeks and a job that regularly requires the equivalent of setting up and taking apart a small village, it’s a wonder that a career in carnivals survives. Since 1903, the Fernandez family name has been synonymous with carnival rides and family fun in Hawai‘i.
“I started in this business when I was 12,” says E.K Fernandez Shows president Scott Fernandez. “Parents are talking about business, and you’re learning this stuff way early, skill sets that you can use throughout your entire life. Being a family business, everything we did, we did together.”
Their legacy begins with Scott’s grandfather, Edwin Fernandez, born in 1883. The family is of royal lineage and, not only did King Kalākaua throw a weeklong lū‘au to celebrate little Edwin’s first birthday, but he gave him a middle name: Kaneikawaiola. At 20 years old, E.K. filmed scenes of Hawai‘i using a revolutionary new motion picture camera he had acquired during college on the Mainland and screened impromptu movies on strung-up bedsheets for plantation camp workers. He later showed his films at the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco. When he returned, he brought with him 20 performers and six animals, including a 400-pound roller-skating bear. The carnival had arrived.
Fernandez’ circus would flourish in the Islands, growing to include Hawai‘i’s first amusement ride (a steam-powered merry-go-round), live animals such as bears, tigers and elephants, and famous high-wire acts that included the Nearing Sisters and the Flying Wallendas. E.K. Fernandez became known as “the Barnum of the Pacific,” a title passed down to his son Kane who took over in 1970 when E.K. passed away. Kane and wife Linda were the ones who realized the importance of diversifying their brand to include indoor attractions—after a particularly rainy Punahou Carnival. With Linda as CEO, they launched the indoor arcades Fun Factory and Jungle Fun.
Kane and Linda’s son Scott took over after his father’s death in 2001. He helped bring national burger chain Johnny Rockets to Hawai‘i last year and, in April, combined a Fun Factory with Johnny Rockets to create Rock ‘N Fun in Kapolei’s Ka Makana Ali‘i shopping center. Like a local version of Dave and Buster’s, Rock ‘N Fun offers carnival-style entertainment—arcade games, burgers, fries, hand-spun shakes—as well as adult beverages, “but in a fixed location and with AC,” says Scott.
Like his predecessors, Scott is committed to the carnival industry his family pioneered in Hawai‘i. “We love to do it. Even after 113 years, we still take this business very seriously,” Scott says, as he contemplates how the business will evolve next. “Just ’cause you’re here, doesn’t mean you’re here forever, you know?” —JC
The Hata Drive to Survive
One of Hawai‘i’s largest food distributors escaped failure.
Century-old Y. Hata & Co. Ltd. has weathered setbacks that included a world war, financial crisis and family friction. Today, the food-service business that started in a Hilo garage is a thriving local enterprise, yet bankruptcy seemed inescapable when Y. Hata chairman, president and CEO Russell Hata rejoined the company, then losing about $10,000 a day.
“My dad and uncle Minoru Hata had built the Honolulu branch of Y. Hata to the point where we became the dominant player in the industry during the 1960s and 1970s,” Hata recalls. “But the company didn’t change with computerization and competition, and we started going down.”
Even though the company had diversified to subsidiaries in retail, grocery, vending machines and beer distribution, it had peaked. Hata, who had been running the Maui branch, realized substantial changes could revive the company. But he’d need full control, which would cause tension in the family business.
“My uncle Minoru never talked; he grunted,” Hata says. “One day he goes, ‘Eh, you the only one that can run the company.’ I thought, did I just hear that? Because I was pretty young at the time. But my uncle told me to put together a plan to turn the company around.”
At the next annual board meeting, Hata was prepared to present his strategy. When the board took a break, Hata says, the uncle didn’t return. “Everyone votes the way he votes. He’s the bull. So The rest of the brothers vote me in.”
Hata reorganized the company in 1987, and became CEO in 1991. “I was the youngest and I was put in charge of all my aunties and uncles,” he says. “It was very adversarial. The company was going down, but they didn’t want to let go. That’s very common in family businesses.” Hata merged with two subsidiaries, closed companies, downsized warehouse space and cut staff by more than half.
When the company headquarters was condemned by the state to build the UH medical school, a Sand Island warehouse opened up, and the company moved to its current headquarters. The company largely credits today’s success to that warehouse and new accounts.
“Work smart, not hard,” Hata’s grandfather and company founder Yoichi Hata would say. Today, Y. Hata employs about 360 people, and only two of them are related, says Hata.
The focus has shifted from survival to succession, but the next generation of leadership might not be Hata kin.
“I don’t want to put that burden on my kids,” Hata says. “My goal is to create a professional management team, and my kids can get involved … if they want. My goal for family members is for them to be happy. I don’t want to push them. Hopefully they’ll be like me, where they’ll try to fight their way in.” —LEG
The Spirits of a Community
Tamura’s has been bringing provisions to the party for a hundred years.
For nearly a century, the name Tamura has been synonymous with local food.
In the 1920s, Makitaro Tamura opened Tamura Shoten in Wai‘anae. It was a supermarket that served pork lau lau, pickled daikon and kim chee. Makitaro would eventually hand the reins over to a son, Katsuichi Tamura, who turned it over to his sons in 1957, Clifford and Herbert.
Clifford took over the original Wai‘anae store, now named Tamura Super Market, while Herbert and his son Glenn opened Tamura Enterprises in 1995, specializing in liquor and groceries. Today, the newer venture operates nine spots across O‘ahu and Maui: six Fine Wine & Liquor markets, three grocery stores and an express shop.
Their selection includes wine, beer and a liquor selection that runs from basic brown-bag to top-shelf. Glenn Tamura explains: “When I was on the Mainland I would see pairings of beer with burgers and wings or other types of bar food. I wanted to offer this here but give it a local flair. There’s nothing like a cold beer, fresh poke and fine cigars.”
The business expanded over the years to include more than 300 employees, but the family still offers 10 types of fresh poke daily and still donates annually to public schools. The company’s latest food-related venture is a restaurant: The Edge by Tamura’s, which opened in December 2016 at the old Salt Kitchen & Tasting Bar in Kaimukī.
What’s next? Glenn Tamura says the company sees opportunities in catering and more sit-down dining, which explains the recent purchase of Kissaten and the Row Bar at Restaurant Row. —JC
Wake Up, Hawai‘i!
Native Hawaiian advocates, always ready for a song.
The Alulis and the Meyers are settling in for a group portrait when Mihana Aluli Souza strums her ‘ukulele and calls out: “Let us lend a voice.” Every note in place, her cousins snap to on “For a Peaceful World”—one of many songs by Irmgard Farden Aluli, the clan’s aunt, mother (Mihana’s) and Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame bandleader of the quartet Puamana.
The political subtext fits the Aluli-Meyers, who are as well known for Native Hawaiian activism as music. “A lot of people don’t think of Auntie Irmgard as political,” says Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, after the six women cousins finish a rousing “Wake Up, Hawai‘i!” For emphasis, they repeat a verse: “Preserve the beauty / that surrounds you now / protect the land / and spirit of aloha.” Then, with a fist pump: “I-mua!”
Ancestor Noa Webster Aluli, born in 1880, signed the antiannexation petition at 17. He went to law school in Michigan and, later, Yale, worked as a prosecutor, co-founded a political organization (‘Ahahahui Pu‘uhonua O Na Hawai‘i), ran a newspaper and helped write the Hawaiian Homestead Act.
Emmett laughs recalling his own brief attempt to set type. But he embarked on a life full of engagement when, as a young man, he co-founded Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana. His exploits—managing to evade a U.S. Navy blockade, land and lead military pursuers on a merry chase—sparked decades of legal maneuvers and protest. Today, restoration continues on the island, which is reserved for traditional practices.
In 1981, Emmett would release the groundbreaking, and culture-making, Moloka‘i Heart Study, which argued for a return to a basic precontact diet as a way to curb the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. (In 2017, Emmett’s name is again attached to a University of Hawai‘i John A. Burns School of Medicine study, decrying the decline of male Native Hawaiian health.)
Returning from a 15-year career in advertising on the Mainland, cousin Maile Meyer would open Nā Mea Hawai‘i, ensuring a place for expression in art, fashion, handcrafted objects, discussion, writing and performance. She secured the Ward Warehouse stage where cousin Elena Hollinger-Martinez led community kanikapila on Sundays for seven years. “Maile’s always reinventing capitalism,” says sister Manu, director of indigenous education at the University of Hawai‘i West O‘ahu.
Manu is a Harvard-educated synthesizer of influences as disparate as quantum mechanics and Native Hawaiian cultural practice. Popping in straight out of a meeting, in crisp aloha boardroom attire, is sister Meleanna Aluli Meyer, the painter, arts administrator and filmmaker (Puamana, the documentary on Auntie Irmgard, Ho‘oku‘ikahi, Onipa‘a).
The Meyer father, Harry, was running the Hawaiiana Hotel down on Beachwalk when, in 1952, he decided all the Aluli families should relocate from Punchbowl to Kailua. They ended up with four houses along the canal and another not far away. While nothing like the 60 to 70 who’ve shown up in Kailua, today’s gathering at Manu’s Nu‘uanu bungalow is an A-list of Island activism nonetheless. Shout-outs go to cousin Yuklin Aluli’s legal work on water rights, the Pele Defense Fund and the TMT/Mauna Kea lawsuits; Emmett’s brother Hayden’s legal work for access and preservation on Maui.
How do they do it? “We all had to perform our own programs after dinner growing up,” suggests Emmett. “We work hard at getting along,” says Meleanna. “We’ve learned to take care of each other and to love each other.” “It’s a living legacy,” says Manu.
“But we must do more,” says Maile. “This is our only shot at it.” Despite having to close Nā Mea in the Ward demolition, she’ll reopen a new store. “Who else is going to carry our handmade Hawaiian stuff? It has to be where our people can see it, too, not Waikīkī.”
Elena lightly strums her ‘ukulele. They all join in: “I-mua! I-mua Hawai‘i!” —DW