Remembering Coco Palms, its legends

Written for The Garden Island Newspaper on December 26, 2015. 

Domie Orial can still remember the day he saw Elvis Presley in person, walking across the street in Kauai.

“I knew who he was, but I thought, ‘Look over there at Skinny Legs,’” said Orial, who lives in Hanamaulu. “He had really skinny legs, and he was really tall.”

Orial was working at Coco Palms Resort as a waiter and bus boy when he saw The King.

“He didn’t speak to me; he didn’t like to be bothered,” Orial said. “But he did like going to Coco Palms.”

The resort opened its doors in 1953 and became popular after being used as a filming location for Presley’s film “Blue Hawaii.” Numerous other movie stars frequented Coco Palms during its time. All that came to an end in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki wreaked havoc on the resort.

The Hyatt is currently working toward restoring the resort, which is scheduled to reopen in 2017.

“I worked at Coco Palms for years,” Orial said. “But when I first got here, I worked in sugar.”

Orial arrived on Kauai in 1961 from the Philippines when he was 22. His mother brought him to the island, looking for better opportunities, and he immediately went to work in the sugar cane fields, making a couple of dollars an hour.

“My friend who worked at Coco Palms told me one day that I should work there for more money, so I picked up an application and I got a job,” Orial said.

He went from taking home $15 or $20 a day to sometimes bringing in as much as $75 in a day.
At first, he was designated a bus boy, but that didn’t last long. His manager noticed that he had a good handle on English, and ended up making him a waiter.

“He had everything lined out on the table and I told him what everything was in English,” Orial said. “Then he told me I should be a waiter because I know English.”

One of his first tasks as a waiter was for he and his team to serve 100 visitors from Japan.

“We did it in one hour,” Orial said. “We served all of those people in one hour.”

Orial is retired, but he still works part-time security at the Nawiliwili Harbor. When he’s not working, he plays cards and goes bowling. He also likes to reminisce about his work at the resort.

“I liked working at Coco Palms,” Orial said. “I was there for a long time.”

Photo taken by Jessica Else for The Garden Island Newspaper December, 2015. 

 

 

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