DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Aoi Wright, left, and Pi'ilani Wright, cousins-in-law, run Moku Ola Hawaiian Healing Center, which offers Hawaiian lomilomi massage and other services at Koko Marina Center. CLICK FOR LARGE
Moku Ola offers its customers respite, a lomilomi massage and a reminder of past culture
MOKU OLA, a Hawaiian healing center in Hawaii Kai, is a business founded on knowledge passed down from family for owners Pi'ilani and Aoi Wright.
Pi'ilani and Aoi are cousins-in-law who shared the same vision of creating a business based on Hawaiian values and principles.
Though they both had their own career paths -- Aoi was a pediatric nurse and Pi'ilani a business entrepreneur -- this vision brought them together to form The Lomi Company LLC
The company would later evolve into Moku Ola, which has found its home in a second-floor suite at Koko Marina Center. Moku Ola is gaining clientele primarily through word of mouth.
The center offers lomilomi services that focus on the use of native plants, as well as those targeting mothers-to-be, keiki, and complete healing packages that include sea-salt and pineapple-sugar scrubs. Private parties are also welcome.
MOKU OLA HAWAIIAN HEALING CENTER
» Address: Koko Marina Shopping Center, 7192 Kalanianole Highway, D-201
» Phone: 394-MOKU
» Web site: www.mokuolahawaii.com
MOKU OLA, a Hawaiian healing center offering lomilomi massage and other treatments, is the culmination of knowledge passed down from family for owners Pi'ilani and Aoi Wright.
The center, located in a second-floor suite at Koko Marina Center, is hidden from view, but gaining clients through word of mouth.
Pi'ilani is married to Aoi's cousin. Though they are cousins-in-law, they look as if they could be sisters and finish one another's sentences in an uninterrupted and harmonic flow.
Both are from Papakolea on Oahu, and have a long line of teachers, including great-great grandmothers, grandfathers, aunties, uncles and mentors that taught them the arts of Hawaiian healing.
The healing center offers lomilomi services that focus on the use of native plants, as well as those targeting mothers-to-be, keiki, and complete healing packages that include sea-salt and pineapple-sugar scrubs. Private parties are also welcome.
"We always wanted to do something together," said Aoi Wright. "Something where we could share our culture, and perpetuate it. We're so lucky to have family that taught us basic morals and values. That guiding force is what got us where we are today."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Above, therapist Meghan Au gives a massage to "Lissa" in one of the rooms. "We always wanted to do something together," Aoi Wright said. "Something where we could share our culture, and perpetuate it. We're so lucky to have family that taught us basic morals and values. That guiding force is what got us where we are today." CLICK FOR LARGE
The goal was to create a business and a place embracing these Hawaiian values.
"You can feel when you walk in, this is what we've been brought up with," said Pi'ilani. "You can feel the malie (calmness) of this place."
As if by destiny, the two first met in 1989, when Pi'ilani was dating Aoi's cousin. A Kaiser High School graduate, Pi'ilani was studying business and then became a mother.
It was when her 3-year-old daughter got sick that she returned to her family's roots of Hawaiian healing.
Aoi, a pediatric nurse for 10 years at Kapiolani Children's Hospital, also began to delve into her own culture, which led her to become a licensed massage therapist, and then learn more about lomilomi.
Both Pi'ilani and Aoi worked at the Lomi Shop in Windward Mall, at different times, as well as the Mandara Spa.
In 2003, Pi'ilani and Aoi struck out on their own and formed Lomi Company LLC. The following year, they tried out the concept through the Hale Ku'ai Cooperative, which was then taking out a temporary lease at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in Waikiki.
The concept proved to be popular, and so they decided to find a home for the business and landed in Hawaii Kai. By the time they made the move, they had a pretty good following.
Building out the space at Koko Marina was less expensive than a new space at Ala Moana Center, where they were also offered a lease, said Pi'ilani.
With a little paint -- blue, green and brown representing ocean, mountain and earth -- they transformed the existing second-floor space into a calm oasis. The bonus was the sweeping view of the marina.
Now, having been there more than a year, Pi'ilani estimates a customer base of more than 1,000 -- about 70 percent local and 30 percent visitors, a combination of Japanese and westbound.
Most of the clients come through word of mouth, but the pair has paid for advertising and public relations firms, some targeting the Japanese visitor.
They believe the healing center is offering a more authentic part of the Hawaiian culture, and prefer thus to call it that than a spa.
The name, Moku Ola, as given by a kumu hula, or hula master, comes from a healing rock off of the Hilo side of the Big Island.
Moku Ola's logo, a furled fern, represents the "piko," or belly button, where birth comes from.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Aoi Wright, left, and Pi'ilani Wright, cousins-in-law and owners of the Moku Ola Hawaiian Healing Center at Koko Marina Center, stand in a hallway that displays pictures of their family. CLICK FOR LARGE
"The actual massage is just a part of it," said Pi'ilani Wright. "We lomi you from the moment you walk in. It includes how we are when we greet you."
That means offering a greeting, a cup of tea or water, and a homelike setting. It means letting clients relax in one of the cushy sofa chairs, rather than being rushed in and out.
Daily life in the Hawaiian islands is becoming more stressful, according to Pi'ilani -- there's more traffic and more two-income families struggling to pay the bills.
Moku Ola offers a respite, and a reminder of the old Hawaiian ways.
Lomilomi, to Pi'ilani, is a state of mind that one practices by living each day with aloha.
In the healing center, Pi'ilani and Aoi have photos of their ancestors, their source of inspiration for perpetuating the healing arts.
"Both Pi'ilani and I have been so fortunate," Aoi said. "We've had a great ohana to teach us morals and values, so we can share it with everyone."
Balancing Hawaiian culture with a Western business model can sometimes be challenging. But Aoi says they want to stay as true and authentic to the culture as possible.
In making any major decisions, she says she listens to her "na'au," or gut.
With the desire to perpetuate the Hawaiian healing arts, the cousins formed a nonprofit arm, the Moku Ola Education Foundation, which focuses on nurturing the youth to become practitioners.
As far as future goals go, the pair would like to perhaps one day open another center on a neighbor island, as well as New York, where they have many friends and believe there's a need for their healing.