Alii Drive landmark Huggo’s celebrates 50th anniversary tonight

  • Huggo's celebrates 50 years at the iconic Alii Drive restaurant. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Huggo's celebrates 50 years at the iconic Alii Drive restaurant. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — In its 50 years as a restaurant staple along Alii Drive, Huggo’s has always been about one thing — taking chances.

“We don’t get stuck in the past,” owner Eric von Platen Luder said. “We continue to evolve and stay young and relevant to the current trends and the current tastes of our guests. That’s really the main thing about us.”

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The ever-evolving restaurant and bar started in its first form when Eric’s parents, Hugo and Shirley von Platen Luder, opened its doors in April of 1969 as a steakhouse with a salad bar, focused on “good food and good fun.”

Fifty years later, Huggo’s menu and restaurant layout may have changed, but the fun theme remains. And to celebrate its five decades of serving residents and tourists of the Big Island, Huggo’s is holding a 50th anniversary party and charity fundraiser starting at 6 p.m. tonight.

Those who want to attend the birthday bash must purchase tickets in advance for $100 per person. Fifty percent of the proceeds from the ticket sales will be donated to local nonprofits: Hawaii Island Humane Society, Hospice of Kona, Kealakehe High School culinary program, Keauhou Canoe Club, Kona Community Hospital Foundation, Kona Dance and Performing Arts, Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, Kona Mauka Rotary Club, Lava Kids and Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii. Giving back to the community that has helped Huggo’s be so successful is important to von Platen Luder. The current owner was 7 years old when his parents first purchased the property, and he in turn purchased it from them in 1982 when they decided to retire. Having been there since the beginning, von Platen Luder knows the No. 1 priority is the local customers from the Big Island who have always flocked to the restaurant’s tables.

“We depend very heavily on our local clientele and our community supporting us,” von Platen Luder said.

The celebration will also feature Henry Kapono performing live music, and games centered on the restaurant’s 50-year history.

Von Platen Luder said Huggo’s took a turn in the late ’80s and early ’90s from a casual steakhouse to a restaurant with a focus on an expanded, chef-created menu and Hawaiian cuisine using ingredients grown on the island instead of ingredients imported from the mainland.

In 1989, Huggo’s on the Rocks was added to the mix. The adjacent restaurant and bar was created to offer Kailua-Kona a casual dining scene that was an “open air, on the beach-type setting” that von Platen Luder felt couldn’t be found in Hawaii or on the Big Island, unless you went to a resort.

“Going to a resort isn’t really an option for a lot of people who live here, and even a lot of people who vacation here,” von Platen Luder said. “So our idea was, we’ve got a beautiful, beach-front location, let’s expand it and do something that no one else is doing. It is very casual burgers, fish tacos, and local favorites in an open-air, on the beach-type environment that, until then, was really reserved for the elite tourists that could afford to pay to stay at the Mauna Lani or the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, which were the only places at the time you could do that.”

Nakies Constantinou has been general manager of Huggo’s for five years, and a member of the Huggo’s team for 10. He called working for the restaurant a “dream scenario.”

“It was just a really good environment, a really good atmosphere. I like the core values of the company, they fit in with what I believe and how I work,” Constantinou said. “It was just a really great place to be and be a part of the community which they are so involved with. And just to get a real taste of what the island is and this is the perfect spot, because it’s been here 50 years.”

Constantinou said coming to work at Huggo’s is never a chore for him. The staff and customers always make his job worth having, and the restaurant’s philosophy of “always shaking things around” keeps it fun.

“All that I can say is you really couldn’t ask for a better scenario of working on the island,” Constantinou said. “And it’s very therapeutic. To be on the ocean and to hear the waves crashing all the time, it takes the stress away from whatever else is going on.”

It’s not just the locals and employees that find comfort in the location, food and drinks at Huggo’s. With it’s ocean and sunset view, Huggo’s is the perfect spot for a tourist, too.

Dewayne Strutz, from Vancouver, Wash., has visited Huggo’s on previous trips to the Big Island, and there’s isn’t a better place for him to enjoy a beer while on the island.

“It’s open, it has good beer and a good view,” Strutz said. “What more could you want?”

Rochelle and Lance Zimmerman come visit the Big Island every year from Oregon, and a part of their annual trip is a visit to Huggo’s.

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“It’s our spot,” Rochelle Zimmerman said. “It has a nice view, nice food, and the company is good, too. We’ve kind of gotten to know the locals here, and so while we’re not actually local, we feel like locals when we are here.”

Tickets to Huggo’s 50th Anniversary: A Charity Fundraiser are $100 per person, or $1,200 for a reserved table of 10. No tickets will be sold at the door. Tickets can be purchased in advance at eventbrite.com, at Huggo’s or On the Rocks, or from the designated Big Island charities.

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