Pondering life after Makena

During their 23 years of employment, Sandy Taniguchi and Evelyn Moreno have touched the lives of almost every guest at the Makena Beach & Golf Resort.

Taniguchi started as concierge, and then moved on to coordinate bookings for weddings, conventions and retreats for Scouts and churches.

Moreno has worked at the hotel’s logo shop and waited tables at various property venues but is best known as the “singing barista” at the hotel’s coffee counter, calming customers for 17 years with her songs as they wait in line to get their caffeine fix.

The two longtime employees are full of both sadness and optimism as they and around 300 other workers are set to lose their jobs July 1 as the hotel closes to make way for the development of the Makena Golf & Beach Club, a private beachfront community and club. Around 75 employees will be staying in golf course, restaurant, landscaping and security positions during construction of the $240 million high-end condominium project.

Formerly known as the Maui Prince Hotel, the hotel opened in 1986. Much of the resort, including vacant land around the hotel, is now owned by ATC Makena, which paid approximately $190 million for it in 2010.

Taniguchi says the closure is just part of life.

“You have to expect some development in this area, like in anything else,” said the Pukalani resident, who was hired at the hotel in 1993 as a guest service coordinator, or concierge.

“Of course I will miss our co-workers,” she said. “We are very tight, really ohana. We are very close. I will miss everyone.”

But, she said, it is important to “stay positive” and to look to the “new chapter of your life.”

For Moreno, the hotel’s closure is “very sad.”

This will be the first time she will be out of a job. “We have to accept the fact and find our resources again,” the Kihei resident said.

“All we need from the community is prayer, that’s all, prayer for all of us. For all those that (will lose) their jobs, like HC&S and (for) the resources we can get,” Moreno said. (Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. will be winding down its sugar operations by the end of this year, with more than 600 employees losing their jobs.)

Makena Beach & Golf Resort General Manager Declan McCarthy said that approximately 12 employees have already found other jobs.

The hotel’s staffing has been reduced “a little,” McCarthy said. “However, we are maintaining all our service levels as normal.”

Taniguchi and Moreno have yet to begin their job searches.

Taniguchi said she was preoccupied with events at the hotel and with her son’s graduation this past weekend and will need to catch up.

Moreno will be taking advantage of the hotel’s Ohana Resource Center for help with resume writing and posting resumes online. The Ohana Resource Center provides staff and resources to help workers transition to other opportunities.

A private job fair is planned for hotel employees.

Moreno said that although she could probably easily find work as a barista, wages at chain coffee stores do not compare with what she’s making at the hotel and she would have to work two jobs to make ends meet.

With four daughters – three in high school and one entering intermediate school – Moreno said she wants to be with her children as much as possible and not be away from home. Her husband works at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.

“Kids always need guidance. We need to be there. To have a good society that we are going to have in the future, we need to have good quality families (and those that are) family-oriented. We need to have that in each and all of us. It starts (with) the family (then) to the community.”

With the new school year coming soon after the hotel closes, Moreno said she is trying to save for her daughters’ registration fees. She added that with some employees already leaving the hotel, she is working some six-day weeks, and hopes to save some money.

Taniguchi, who speaks Japanese and serves as the hotel’s director of global accounts, said she would like to find a similar job in sales and marketing.

One of her recent accomplishments was increasing the hotel’s reach to Korean honeymooners. She began focusing on that group in 2013 and, by the end of 2015, the hotel booked more than 5,400 room nights for the Korean honeymoon market.

Taniguchi said that travel wholesalers are also saddened by the closure, with some pledging to follow Taniguchi with their business wherever she goes.

Moreno said that she has been seeing guests coming back to the hotel just to see it one last time. They have called the hotel their “second homes,” she said.

She will miss singing as she always does while working at Barista 5400, named for the hotel’s address on Makena Alanui Road. “People when they hear me sing, more they are happy,” Moreno said.

“I always sang as a child,” she added. “It’s my way of expressing myself, instead of crying.”

The tears will probably come later.

“We are sad, but we are not crying yet. We are still working.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

Pondering life after Makena

During their 23 years of employment, Sandy Taniguchi and Evelyn Moreno have touched the lives of almost every guest at the Makena Beach & Golf Resort.

Taniguchi started as concierge, and then moved on to coordinate bookings for weddings, conventions and retreats for Scouts and churches.

Moreno has worked at the hotel’s logo shop and waited tables at various property venues but is best known as the “singing barista” at the hotel’s coffee counter, calming customers for 17 years with her songs as they wait in line to get their caffeine fix.

The two longtime employees are full of both sadness and optimism as they and around 300 other workers are set to lose their jobs July 1 as the hotel closes to make way for the development of the Makena Golf & Beach Club, a private beachfront community and club. Around 75 employees will be staying in golf course, restaurant, landscaping and security positions during construction of the $240 million high-end condominium project.

Formerly known as the Maui Prince Hotel, the hotel opened in 1986. Much of the resort, including vacant land around the hotel, is now owned by ATC Makena, which paid approximately $190 million for it in 2010.

Taniguchi says the closure is just part of life.

“You have to expect some development in this area, like in anything else,” said the Pukalani resident, who was hired at the hotel in 1993 as a guest service coordinator, or concierge.

“Of course I will miss our co-workers,” she said. “We are very tight, really ohana. We are very close. I will miss everyone.”

But, she said, it is important to “stay positive” and to look to the “new chapter of your life.”

For Moreno, the hotel’s closure is “very sad.”

This will be the first time she will be out of a job. “We have to accept the fact and find our resources again,” the Kihei resident said.

“All we need from the community is prayer, that’s all, prayer for all of us. For all those that (will lose) their jobs, like HC&S and (for) the resources we can get,” Moreno said. (Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. will be winding down its sugar operations by the end of this year, with more than 600 employees losing their jobs.)

Makena Beach & Golf Resort General Manager Declan McCarthy said that approximately 12 employees have already found other jobs.

The hotel’s staffing has been reduced “a little,” McCarthy said. “However, we are maintaining all our service levels as normal.”

Taniguchi and Moreno have yet to begin their job searches.

Taniguchi said she was preoccupied with events at the hotel and with her son’s graduation this past weekend and will need to catch up.

Moreno will be taking advantage of the hotel’s Ohana Resource Center for help with resume writing and posting resumes online. The Ohana Resource Center provides staff and resources to help workers transition to other opportunities.

A private job fair is planned for hotel employees.

Moreno said that although she could probably easily find work as a barista, wages at chain coffee stores do not compare with what she’s making at the hotel and she would have to work two jobs to make ends meet.

With four daughters – three in high school and one entering intermediate school – Moreno said she wants to be with her children as much as possible and not be away from home. Her husband works at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.

“Kids always need guidance. We need to be there. To have a good society that we are going to have in the future, we need to have good quality families (and those that are) family-oriented. We need to have that in each and all of us. It starts (with) the family (then) to the community.”

With the new school year coming soon after the hotel closes, Moreno said she is trying to save for her daughters’ registration fees. She added that with some employees already leaving the hotel, she is working some six-day weeks, and hopes to save some money.

Taniguchi, who speaks Japanese and serves as the hotel’s director of global accounts, said she would like to find a similar job in sales and marketing.

One of her recent accomplishments was increasing the hotel’s reach to Korean honeymooners. She began focusing on that group in 2013 and, by the end of 2015, the hotel booked more than 5,400 room nights for the Korean honeymoon market.

Taniguchi said that travel wholesalers are also saddened by the closure, with some pledging to follow Taniguchi with their business wherever she goes.

Moreno said that she has been seeing guests coming back to the hotel just to see it one last time. They have called the hotel their “second homes,” she said.

She will miss singing as she always does while working at Barista 5400, named for the hotel’s address on Makena Alanui Road. “People when they hear me sing, more they are happy,” Moreno said.

“I always sang as a child,” she added. “It’s my way of expressing myself, instead of crying.”

The tears will probably come later.

“We are sad, but we are not crying yet. We are still working.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.