Waioli Tea Room

There are not many public venues that retain their original structures and ambiance. So where can one experience the charm of old Hawaii? Where one can take a sentimental journey back in time?

We’re glad you asked. Take a ride with us just three miles from downtown Honolulu through the quiet residential streets of Manoa Valley. As we turn at the intersection of Oahu Avenue onto a 10-acre property owned by the Salvation Army, a transformation takes place. One is mesmerized by the tranquility and natural beauty that contrasts with the hustle and bustle of modern Honolulu.

Nature and the good graces of the Salvation Army have kept this corner of Hawaii as it has been for nearly a century. Waioli Tea Room, at 2950 Manoa Road, is the cornerstone of this unduplicated charm of old Hawaii. Here, in an 8,000-square-foot plantation-style building one can experience aloha in a unique fashion. Whether seated at the outdoor patio or indoor dining space, Waioli Tea Room is a feast for the eyes, appetite and heart. There is an intimacy and cordiality that spells Hawaiian hospitality. Its charms are organic, demonstrating the power of preservation.


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The tranquil setting at Waioli Team Room harkens back to another time | Nathalie Walker photo

After some sprucing up and a change of operator, Waioli Tea Room is ready to welcome visitors and diners again.

The 210-seat restaurant, once leased to a private restaurateur, is now operated by Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), according to Maj. John Chamness, divisional commander.

Rafael Escalara, business administrator for ARC, heads Waioli’s operations with a staff of 25. Chef Kris Prieto, who formerly owned Nostalgia Café in Philadelphia, is in the kitchen modifying the menu and expanding its offerings.

Don’t worry, your favorite salads and sandwiches are not going away. Although Prieto might tweak them a bit here and there.

“One change is the addi tion of house specialties and daily specials that are cooked to order for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea,” Prieto says. “Response to this has been very positive.”

House specialties include Fresh Herb Crusted Seared Ahi ($16.95) and Oven Baked Salmon Cake ($14.95). Daily specials, such as Philly Cheesesteak, are announced tableside.

A Valentine’s Day three-course dinner ($75 per person) will offer a choice of appetizers, entrée selection of prime rib, roast turkey, roast salmon, pork loin or shellfish bouillabaisse, and tempting desserts. BYOB (bring your own beau).

Part of the Waioli (it translates as joyful water) experience is its homelike atmosphere, friendly service and lovely garden views from floor-to-ceiling sash windows. The replicated grass shack that novelist Robert Louis Stevenson once occupied while visiting Princess Kaiulani at Ainahau sits on the grounds and is a major attraction.

A frequent question asked of servers, such as Trinette Villoria, is the history of Waioli. Was it once someone’s home? The fireplace might give that impression.

“We’re storytellers,” Villoria says. “We explain its original purpose was a vocational training adjunct to the Salvation Army’s Children’s Home established in Manoa Valley in 1909.”

Built on the site in 1922, Waioli served as a classroom for nearly 40 years. It eventually became a treasured afternoon tea and luncheon destination. It was added to the State and National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Waioli today is a popular site for entertaining out-of-town guests and for special occasions, such as birthdays, showers, anniversaries and high tea.

Afternoon tea ($22.95 adults, $18.95 children and reserved 24 hours in advance) is a glamorous table setting of fancy linen, English fine bone china, tiered platform of assorted pastries, finger sandwiches, scones and teacakes as well as Devonshire cream and flavored butter or curd. The tea cart offers 25 varieties of Harney & Sons fine teas.

Fresh baked goods are made on-site, and no alcoholic beverages are served at the restaurant.

“Many people like this wholesome approach to light dining,” Escalera says.

He acknowledges Waioli’s niche for “the ladies who lunch” and enjoy afternoon tea with their friends, complete with fashionable attire and hats. He hopes to bring back that tradition once a month at a special price ($19.22) so it becomes a signature event.

Why $19.22? Those numbers refer to the year Waioli was built. Now you’ll never forget it.

On the business side, Maj. Chamness says reopening Waioli gives the Salvation Army an additional source of revenue besides its family thrift stores. Financial stability combined with generous contributions from the community assures the or-ganization meets its mission to help people in need make productive changes in their lives to regain self-sufficiency and independence.

Me? I’m just glad Waioli Tea Room is open again and we can get those yummy and savory rosemary, blueberry, and orange-cranberry scones. It takes so little to make us happy.

Waioli Tea Room is open Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Phone: 988-5800.