WRITTEN BY MARTA LANE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRK SHORTE AND MIEKO HORIKOSHI
“Loyal employees say deep family connections fortify the resort’s longevity; families that exemplify solidarity as older generations teach younger generations about ethics and standards of quality.”
In 2015, Hawaii Island’s Mauna Kea Beach Hotel celebrated its 50th anniversary as a luxury resort. Though the Mauna Kea boasts world-class views of Hāpuna Bay and Hualālai Mountain, visitors and staff members alike know there’s more to the resort’s continued success than a picturesque setting. Its loyal employees say deep family connections fortify the resort’s longevity; families that exemplify solidarity as older generations teach younger generations about ethics and standards of quality.
Wes Yamamoto Jr. has worked as a bellman at Mauna Kea for 16 years. His lineage boasts three generations and five family member employees, including his father, who started as a busboy and is now the resort’s butcher.
“I was here for the 25th anniversary,” says Yamamoto. “I was 13 years old and my grandpa worked in the engineering department. Back then, they had the blasting license to do the fireworks, which I got to help load. I was about 15 feet away from the big ‘two-five’ that they lit up. We are celebrating 25 years later. I never thought I’d be here for the fiftieth.”
In Lisa Carpio’s family, three generations and thirteen family members have been employed at Mauna Kea. Her mother and father worked at the resort when it opened in 1965. After working on the mainland, Carpio returned home and started as a dishwasher, then moved to the kitchen and worked with her mother.
Carpio works at the Hau Tree, the resort’s lunchtime restaurant overlooking Kohala Coast’s Kauna‘oa Beach. During peak service, up to 400 lunches are served. When Carpio first started, she didn’t enjoy preparing sushi. As a left-hander, she rolls sushi in the opposite direction of her mother – who insisted that her daughter roll sushi the way she did. Carpio didn’t understand why she couldn’t do it her way when the finished product looked the same. With 50 orders coming in for one service, and three pieces per order, her mother finally gave up and let Carpio do it her way.
“You have to live up to the older generation’s standards, so the pressure is on you,” says Carpio, who remembers playing in the resort’s bay as a child. “There are a lot of bumps in the road but it smoothes out. We all have our differences, but when it comes to work, we pull together.”
Thirteen years ago, Judy Itzig-Heine landed her first job as a waitress at the Hau Tree. She stayed on for 10 years before becoming the food and beverage manager and, today, is the human resources coordinator. Within her family, four generations have worked at Mauna Kea, including her grandmother, who worked in laundry; her mother, who was a hotel operator; her mother-in-law, who was a popular waitress; and her two daughters, who work in the landscaping and golf departments.
Generations of employees looking after generations of visitors lends continuity to a guest’s experience. With 50 year’s worth of generational team members, personal relationships blossom into international connections, which enlarges Mauna Kea’s singular family.
“Throughout the years, we’ve come to know the families who visit regularly. They look for the generations, the tradition and the old grand Mauna Kea feeling,” says Itzig-Heine, who always wanted to work at Mauna Kea because of its family-oriented quality. “I’m trying to get the younger generation to adapt to the Aloha Spirit. It’s hard to get them to say aloha naturally, which was easy for the older generation. Aloha means hello, love and welcome. It’s like sunshine.”
Family dynamics have great power. Families can clash as lifelong enemies, or come together in peace and harmony. Life’s challenges weave generations into an indelible tapestry and forge a united family; a family whose heart is filled with aloha.