Bellman Clifton Kau paused for a portrait Tuesday at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, where he has been employed since 1967.
Above, the relatively modest entrance of the hotel fronting Kalakaua Avenue. The hotel is under new management, which has plans for renovation.
The joy that Clifton Kau, a 75-year-old bellman, has found during his 50-year career at the half-century-old Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort inspired his love for his favorite karaoke tune, “Richer Than I.”
The flagship property, which was the first resort in the chain to carry the Outrigger name, was still under construction on June 12, 1967, when Kau, then 25, reported to work for the hotel chain’s founders, Roy and Estelle Kelley. The hotel, which opened as the chain’s most upscale property, was built on the site of the former Outrigger Canoe Club, which was frequented by four-time Olympian Duke Kahanamoku.
“My former supervisor at the Ilikai recruited me for the job,” Kau said. “It was the best move that I ever made. As the years piled on, I found that I didn’t want to leave the place. If I were reincarnated, I would want to come back.”
Kau has seen many changes at Outrigger, which ended a 67-year run as a family company in December with its acquisition by Colorado-based KSL Capital Partners LLC. Leadership changes followed the transition. Revell Newton was appointed general manager of the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, and Mary Loy as director of sales and marketing for the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort and the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort. Just last month Waikiki hotel veteran Kelly Hoen was appointed the area general manager for the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort and its sister, the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort.
Despite all the changes, Kau said the lyrics to the 1960 Teddy Randazzo song still sum up his many decades with Outrigger, which continues to have a family-run atmosphere with a focus on warmth and personalization.
“I believe in that song because no one is richer than I, no one more happy than I,” said Kau, who was born a “blackout baby” because he arrived just a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Kau said job satisfaction has had a lot to do with his positive outlook.
“I once had a job delivering paint on a motorcycle. I didn’t like that as much. I didn’t like the Ilikai as much, either,” he said. “Here I’ve got no stress. I work with great people. Being a bellman is worry-free.”
Kau said he enjoys working with people who understand that “hospitality has to come from the heart.”
Hoen said Outrigger Waikiki has occupied a great location but that the passion and history that Kau and other longtime workers have brought to their jobs have played a major role in building guest demand.
“No one has been here longer than Clift,” Hoen said. “From a company perspective, having longevity and loyalty creates an experience that you can’t match. The richness of the stories and the connectivity to return guests — there’s nothing like it. Our fresh young hosts have the best mentors to teach them the Outrigger way.”
A coming renovation under the new ownership group will help the property’s physical appearance match its inner spirit, she said.
“It’s exciting for all the hosts who work here and all the guests who will be coming for the next 50 years and beyond,” Hoen said.
Kau plans to retire next year, so he doesn’t know whether he’ll see the hotel’s future improvements. But he expects one day that the whole hotel could be rebuilt or, at the very least, its humble entryway replaced.
“We have a small front opening,” he said. “So many people pass the property and have to come back. It looks like a nothing hotel from the outside, but when they walk through the arch and stay here, it blossoms. It’s a diamond in the rough. It’s a beautiful hotel.”
Join the 50th anniversary celebrations at Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort.
Reprinted with permission from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.