If you died and were reborn as a horse, you could do a lot worse than to find yourself delivered into the arms of Doug and Justine Albrecht, owners of Plantation Carriages at Kilohana Plantation Estate. From the moment Pearl, their African gray parrot, greets you at the door, you know you’re in a home where the animals come first.
Of course, the animals most Kaua‘i residents are familiar with are the Clydesdales, the five “gentle giants” that live in a corral at the back of the Albrechts’ home on the east portion of the Kilohana Plantation Estate.
For 22 years, the Albrechts and their team of horses have provided carriage rides all over Kaua‘i and remained a celebrated fixture of island life.
But now Plantation Carriages has reached the end of the trail. On Dec. 1, the horse-drawn livery service will give rides to its last few customers and then close up shop for good.
On Dec. 27 the horses will be shipped on a Young Bros. barge to Honolulu, and from there fly nine hours on a Fed Ex plane to their new home, with Doug Albrecht at their side.
The Albrechts and their horses will be leaving for Belleville, Texas, a small town roughly 60 miles northwest of Houston. There, Doug will act as general manager on a privately owned “pleasure ranch.”
It’s a bittersweet transition for the Albrechts, not just because of the dissolution of their company, but because Doug, Justine and their two children, Donny, 17, and Mandy, 13, have grown so close to the Kaua‘i community. Now, they just want to say “aloha” and “mahalo” to the people who live on the land they say will always be their home.
Through their involvement with the Rotary Club, the Lihu‘e Lutheran Church, AYSO Soccer (for which Doug volunteered as a coach), the PTSEA at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, Kauai High School Band Boosters and Island School, the Albrechts have stayed active and involved.
According to the Albrechts, that was the idea from the beginning — to run a successful business that would allow them to give back. Like many small business owners, they tried to look past the bottom line to the role their business played in the community.
“The Clydesdales provided the revenue needed to do the community projects. We started off by rescuing animals, but that has not been our main focus. Our main focus has been the community of Kaua‘i,” said Mrs. Albrecht.
Back in his hometown, North Pole, Alaska, Mr. Albrecht started his horse-drawn livery service as a high school sophomore and then brought the Clydesdales to Kaua‘i in June of 1986 when he was 19. He did some consultant work and carriage repair for the Westin Hotel, but soon decided to step out on his own.
An entrepreneur at heart, Mr. Albrecht said he realized he wasn’t interested in a corporate job. “When you start your own business at the age of 16, that’s what you want to stick with.”
In addition to providing services at Kilohana, from 1994 to 2006, Plantation Carriages provided carriage services for Kaua‘i Lagoons, a relationship that helped the Albrechts promote their upscale wedding business, Chapel by the Sea.
Since deciding to leave the island, the Albrechts have recalled some of the experiences they’ve had running Plantation Carriages. According to Doug Talvi, as far as wedding proposals go, his carriage boasts a perfect record, including Doug’s proposal to Justine.
For a 1993 Christmas celebration at the Rice Street Shopping Center, the Albrechts converted their carriage into Santa’s sleigh. (Mr. Albrecht is, after all, from North Pole.) Mrs. Albrecht spoke of a terminally ill little girl who has never left her memory.
“She only had days to live,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “But she turned down her present because she wanted her brother to get a truck.”
When speaking of their horses, you’d think the Albrechts were talking about their own children. And why not? Doug Talvi still attributes his business’ early success to his first Clydesdale, Buddy, who died last October at the age of 27.
Amos, the first Clydesdale to be born on Hawaii, and according to Mr. Albrecht the most premature Clydesdale ever to survive, lived in the Albrecht’s house for weeks after he was born. Actually, he slept with them in their own bed so they could feed the frail animal from a bottle throughout the night.
“He was 37 pounds and 50 days premature,” said Doug Albrecht. “He should have been 160 to 200.”
When asked for comment on the closing of Plantation Carriages, Kilohana general manager Fred Atkins spoke of Amos and the other Clydesdales warmly.
“They’ve all been part of the Kilohana family from the beginning,” Atkins said in a phone interview. “The Clydesdales have been a part of Kilohana as much as anyone has. They’ve added charm and elegance.”
Atkins said he wished the best for the Albrechts, and hoped that their new venture would be a successful one, adding that he intends to keep horses on the Kilohana property and that he will miss the Clydesdales.
When asked if the absence of the carriage business would be a financial loss for Kilohana, Adkins said that it would not.
“The train came — there are a lot of things changing here. But they’ve been with us for 22 years. It’s a loss for us. In a perfect world, we would like to keep the Clydesdales until the end of our lease. They will be missed by the entire Kilohana family.”
On Thanksgiving day, a free carriage ride will be offered from noon to 6 p.m. with the price of the Gaylord’s Thanksgiving dinner, as much as space allows. Call Gaylord’s at 245-9593 for reservations.
• Luke Shanahan, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or email@example.com