GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
A collage of the family photos and menus belonging to Chantal Weaver. The photos are of Chantal and her father Spence Weaver and the menus from his restaurants. CLICK FOR LARGE
Spencecliff lives again -- through a daughter's eyes
The daughter of a famous restaurateur wants to bring back the old Hawaii with a steady venue for performers
STORY SUMMARY »
The name Spencecliff Corp. brings wistful smiles to kamaaina with decades of memories at its dozens of restaurants and bars.
The daughter of co-founder Spencer "Spence" Weaver has resurrected the name and has big ideas for the company and its former employees.
Chantal Moearii Weaver plans an employee reunion next year to honor their service.
At its peak, Spencecliff employed nearly 1,500 people and many were long-timers who worked there more than 20 years.
She also is working to "bring back the old Hawaii," with a venue for Hawaiian song and dance a la the old Queen's Surf and Barefoot Bar, a hot spot for legendary entertainers begin- ning in the 1950s.
Spencecliff's name and about two dozen restaurants were sold in 1986 to Japan-based Nittaku Enterprises, for $6 million.
Nittaku later slashed retiree and employee benefits, but retirees won them back in a class-action lawsuit.
Most of the old familiar Spencecliff restaurants, including Tahitian Lanai, Kelly's and the Ranch House on Oahu, as well as Maui's Lahaina Broiler, have closed.
FULL STORY »
The name Spencecliff Corp. bears fond memories for generations of Hawaii families and ex-pats, thanks to warm meals and cold drinks served by smiling employees.
Now, it has been revived by Chantal Moearii Weaver, daughter of the late co-founder Spencer "Spence" Weaver and niece of the late Clifton Weaver.
At only 46, she also has just welcomed a grandchild into the family's legacy.
Starting in 1939 with mobile hot dog stands called Swanky Franky, Spencecliff became Hawaii's largest restaurant company with restaurants, bars, bakeries and catering operations, as well as hotels in Tahiti and on Maui.
Restaurant names such as Kelly's, Coco's, the Ranch House, Trader Vic's and Tahitian Lanai make many kamaaina nostalgic, as they do Chantal, but more than any of those, the name Queen's Surf has sparked her imagination for the future.
When old-timers gather to talk about the entertainment scene in Waikiki, they are bound to mention Queen's Surf and performances by legendary Hawaii artists. There invariably will be talk of the Barefoot Bar, an equally legendary hang, of the time.
It was such a draw that other entertainers would "flock there," and there would be "Polynesian guys in pareus" showering the audience with plumeria leis, she said.
Showrooms featuring Hawaiian music and dance were once plentiful, "but now, we have so much wasted talent in the islands," Weaver said.
She has heard that some entertainers receive as little as $25 a night to play at a venue.
"I really believe people come to Hawaii to see the dances and listen to the songs and music and more importantly, they want to feel the aloha spirit -- and a lot of them leave and never feel it," Weaver said.
"I want to bring back the old Hawaii, especially in Waikiki."
Spencecliff Corp. version 2.0 would not be as much about restaurants as about Hawaiian music, musicians and dancers -- and a steady venue in which to perform, whether in a fixed showroom or a traveling revue.
However, food "would have to probably be incorporated," she said.
Weaver's father "always stressed, if you're going to do something, you should do it well. When we do this venture, providing a venue for local artists of Hawaiian music, song and dance, I also want to make sure we have quality food as well as quality service with the aloha spirit," she said.
One way to assure that aloha spirit is conveyed from employee to guest, is to take good care of employees, she said -- another lesson learned from her dad.
"A lot of the employees loved my dad. The managers learned everything from Spencecliff and some started their own businesses," she said.
The company and its name were sold in 1986 to a Japan-based company, Nittaku Enterprises, which has closed most of the nearly two dozen restaurants it bought.
In two years Nittaku slashed benefits, and in 1990 retirees won a class-action suit seeking reinstatement of those benefits.
Now that she has resurrected the company name, she is planning a reunion for Spencecliff employees.
Spencecliff had as many as 1,500 employees at one time. Each would receive a birthday cake from the company bakery and personalized card the day before their birthday -- because they were given their birthdays off.
"That's one of the first things Nittaku got rid of," she said.
"My dad was a people person and always wanted to take care of his employees," Chantal said. "He never sold the restaurants that weren't doing well because if he did, they wouldn't have jobs."
The ones that were making money supported the others, she said.
"That's kind of why I wanted to see if I could do a reunion next year," she said. Because of the promises that were broken, "the employees had really no closure. I kind of felt on behalf of my dad and my family, I can put together a reunion," to honor their service.
Weaver wants to set up a Spencecliff Web site, but until then, retirees and former employees are encouraged to contact her via e-mail.
A GLIMPSE AT THE WEAVER BROTHERS
The brothers came from a family of means.
Their father, S. Fullerton Weaver, was a partner in the architecture firm that designed the Waldorf-Astoria and other famous hotels.
The family also counts U.S. President James Buchanan among its lineage, making it nearly American royalty.
Chantal's Tahitian side does include royal lineage, however, through her late mother Turere.
Clifton Weaver died in 1992.
Chantal's mother died in 1995 and was followed the next year by her father.
"I think my father died of a broken heart," Chantal said.
Reunion contact: firstname.lastname@example.org