by Anne E. O’Malley
On the July For Kaua`i Cover. Standing in front of the train, (l-r): Pepe Trask, general manager, Kaua`i Plantation Railway; Fred Atkins, general partner, Kaua`i Kilohana Partners; Kaimana Kinzie, conductor /guide with Kaua`i Plantation Railway; Doug Jackson, engineer, Kaua`i Plantation Railway; Manny Sanchez, Limited Partner, Kaua`i Kilohana Partners.
On the train (l-r): Jordan Harris, conductor /guide, Kaua`i Plantation Railway; Jonathan Pflueger, executive chef, Gaylord’s Restaurant; Nani Marston, entertainment director, Luau Kalamaku; Jessica Amas, manager/Luau Kalamaku; Gino Quintana, food & beverage manager, Gaylord’s Restaurant; Bruce Labok, engineer, Kaua`i Plantation Railway; Bob Gunther, president, Koloa Rum Company; Rae Hiramoto, operations and group sales, Kaua`i Kilohana Partners. Photo by Keri Cooper. View more photos in the gallery below. To read more about the development of the railway, click here.
A Plantation for All to Enjoy
by Anne E. O’Malley
Welcome to Kilohana Plantation, where cutlery has clinked against crockery at lunch and dinner seven days a week since 1986 as patrons of Gaylord’s Restaurant enjoy dining al fresco.
Where 100,000 lu`au guests a year attend a lu`au that tells a Polynesian migration story with fire, flash, dazzle and hula.
Where shops sparkle with gems and pop with colorful art or ooze rum in cakes and chocolate.
And where an historic sugar train puffs its way along a narrow gauge railway through pasture in pursuit of the past.
This is Fred Atkins country, but don’t tell him that! As the general partner of Kilohana Plantation, he’s got a personal profile lower than sea level — and he likes it that way.
Still, he’s been at the heart of bringing the place back from obscurity since he started with his mentor, Manny Sanchez, and a couple of other general partners 25 years ago. The others have since moved on. He holds fast the collective dream — an ag-tourism-historical-cultural marketing focus that keeps residents and visitors moving through this last bucolic green belt in Lihu`e.
Once, Kilohana Plantation was a 700-acre cattle ranch owned by Albert Wilcox, son of teaching missionaries Lucy and Abner Wilcox of Hanalei. In 1935, Albert’s nephew, Gaylord Parke Wilcox, took on the plantation and built himself a 16,000 sq. ft. dream house.
Over time, the land use changed. Today, Kilohana leases a 104-acre contiguous parcel that includes the house with its 36 acres and nine smallish plantation houses for retail and employees .
That acreage and its assets are all property of Gaylord Wilcox, grandson of the afore-mentioned Gaylord. The remaining parcel acreage, Atkins leases from Lihu`e Land Co., Ltd., managed by Grove Farm.
Timing and a confluence of events moved Atkins to take the leap from employee — he was the resident manager at the old Kaua`i Surf — to entrepreneur.
In the mid ‘80s, Chris Hemmeter purchased the Kaua`i Surf, went with Westin management, offered Atkins a spot in marketing and reservations with the hitch that he’d have to do a two-year stint in California while the Westin got glammed up — and Atkins declined.
“I was always intrigued by Kilohana, the Puhi home,” says Atkins, “and thought maybe it was time to do something with it.”
Atkins touched base with friend David Scott [fka Penhallow], working as assistant to then Kaua`i Mayor Tony Kunimura. Scott had just heard from John Gregg Allerton of the famed Allerton Garden at Lawa`i Kai.
Allerton thought it was a shame the Puhi house, in sad disrepair, was going to disintegrate and wondered whether there might be somebody who would bring it back to life.
Says Atkins, “I told David, ‘I’m your guy, that’s what I want to do, but I want to get a meeting with the mayor, because I want Uncle Tony to sign off on this.’”
When Kunimura walked into the former dream house, Atkins says he looked around, pointed his cane and told him, “I want this for the people of Kaua`i.”
Kunimura supported the project and gave Atkins an overview of the planned development in the area.
From Kilohana down to Nawiliwili, the surrounding land was in sugar cane. Kukui Grove was in the works but not up yet.
Atkins said Kunimura told him, “It’s all going to go away. It’s all going to be commercial, both sides. The only greenbelt left in Lihu`e is your front pasture, and I want you promise me as long as you have that place, that you’ll keep it in ag.”
And Atkins has, putting in his fair share of sweat equity, ‘dozing, whacking and whipping buildings into shape.
“I’m pretty much a hands-on type of manager,” says Atkins. “I enjoy working with any of the facets here.”
He had a map of what was planted where in former times.
“It was so overgrown you couldn’t see anything, but with the map, as we cleared it out, we put it back as it was,” says Atkins.
Today, an orchard of over 800 trees and more than 50 crops — some of the bounty supplies the restaurant — dot the back of the property.
“I have enjoyed doing all of these projects, but what makes me feel good about my 25 years at Kilohana is all the fundraisers and local weddings and local events that have taken place here. It was a private home for a select few, and we were able to open it up to our community and visitors alike.”
Click here to read more about Kilohana Plantation, it’s offerings, Gaylord’s Restaurant and how it serves the community.