By Anni Caporuscio
This is what I’ve been waiting for; an actual mountain lodge in Kaua‘i’s beautiful mountain area. I’m excited about this.
Think about it: You go for a day’s hike and before you head down the mountain, you take your muddy shoes off and chill by the fireplace with a hot cup of coffee or a cocktail. Or, as part of your cabin stay, you cruise up to Kōkeʻe Lodge and listen to live music in a cozy living room by the fire.
Or, what do you do if you drive all the way up to Kōkeʻe and it’s raining? You wait it out with a sandwich and tea and a book. By the fire. Can I mention the fireplace is flanked by freshly cut logs, a newly painted mural and genuine lodgey mounted animal heads?
The Kōkeʻe Lodge changed hands last October. Owner Jim Ballantine and his staff have been putting a lot of work to make it part of the Kōkeʻe experience.
“People need to go for a hike! It’s summertime! What better time to go to Kōkeʻe where it’s cool?” says Jim, who grew up on Kaua‘i. Going to Kōkeʻe is something his family did for a few weeks every year; he knows it’s a very special place.
After pursuing his career all over the world, homesickness brought him back to Waimea to take interest in West Kaua‘i cultural history.
Jim brought a great staff who treat each other like family, including talkative and fun Denise Koerte and head-chef Aiko Kajiwara, both of the former Roy’s Restaurant. Aiko has elected to keep some of the classics on the menu that people love, as well as to introduce some new comfort food.
Jim expanded the bar — an old growth koa bar top — to make it functional, and made the bar/fireplace area a very cozy and attractive hangout. He also stopped using single-use plates and utensils, and expanded the retail section to feature primarily local-centric products.
But the Kōkeʻe Lodge is still growing. Here are some of the plans: Introduce Little Fish Coffee! That’s right, a real coffee house in Kōkeʻe! Jointly, the Lodge and Little Fish will host entertainment and events! They’re planning take-out food that you can take with you to your cabin or campsite, and picnics that you can take on a hike or to one of the hidden picnic areas. And, of course, they’re looking to serve more fresh locally grown ingredients, and move into dinnertime as well. They’ll also be continually remodeling, making it one of your must-stops when you go up the hill.
Hale Puna is a historic home that Jim is restoring to eventually be a community center focusing on West Kaua‘i life. Currently, it is a large organic garden from which the Kōkeʻe Lodge harvests its produce. I am more than impressed that Jim’s hands have soil from the morning’s work as we sat for lunch. You can find more about this project at halepuna.org.
Call the Kōkeʻe Lodge at 335-6061 and ask about fresh ingredient specials and Sunday Brunch. Visit kokeelodge.com for more information.
- Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.