Ono, it’s pau

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Robert “Rip” Cord and wife Leilani Cord take a break from working in the kitchen at their Duane’s Ono Char-Burger on Thursday morning. It was their final day running the Anahola burger stand, which they have owned for 31 years.

ANAHOLA — On their final day, after 31 years of owning and operating Duane’s Ono Char-Burger, you might expect Robert and Leilani Cord to mark the moment.

Perhaps a ceremony of sorts. A toast. Maybe a short speech. Or a party.

None of those.

Instead, on a hot Thursday morning, Robert was sweating in the kitchen area as he scrubbed, brushed and cleaned the broiler, while Leilani was slicing tomatoes, onions and cheese.

Outside, people were lining up at the service window. Some even brought chairs. They arrived before 9 a.m. for the scheduled 10 a.m. opening.

Their wait, however, was going to be longer.

“Today we’re going to open a little bit later,” Robert Cord said, adding he had to stop and get supplies on his way in, “and I’m still doing this.”

“It’s one of those things that has to be done,” he said. “Either that, or you’re going to be unemployed.”

The Cords are calling it a day, after three decades, of serving up burgers, sandwiches, fries, shakes and more at the small red building off Kuhio Highway.

They’ve been trying to find a buyer for a year, Robert said, but haven’t. With their health to focus on, they decided enough, with hopes a buyer will come along.

“My legs don’t hold me up no more,” the 70-year-old said. “I did this for 25 years.”

He wasn’t sure how he felt about the shutdown.

“We’re kind of glad, but then again, not,” he said.

“It’s bittersweet,” Leilani said through an opening from the other side of the metal counters and shelves.

“Yeah, it’s a bittersweet deal,” Robert said. “It’s good. We have a lot of great memories.”

He takes pride in pointing out their many young employees over the years advanced in their careers to become doctors, nurses, teachers and firefighters.

“It’s just nice to see the kids grow,” Robert said. “That’s what I like about small towns.”

He lived in Illinois and drove a truck before moving to Kauai after visiting here and falling in love with it.

The Cords came into the fast-food business without any background in that field when they bought the small burger operation from Duane Horka in 1988, who ran it for 10 years prior. They worked hard and were dedicated to providing good service and food at a fair price.

“Duane did such a great job, my hardest part was maintaining it, not screwing it up,” Robert said, laughing.

They didn’t.

Business was strong. Clients kept coming. But more important than sales, the Cords agreed, was the people they came to know through Duane’s Ono Char-Burger.

“The good friends we have made here,” Leilani said, when asked what was the best part of owning it.

“Oh my gosh, yes, a lot of awesome friends,” she continued, pausing as her voice cracked with emotion. “We talk all the time, they come to the house — we’ve been lucky.”

The Cords plan to stay on Kauai.

Robert said, “Kauai is a nice place, and the people here, they’re just outstanding. It’s like no place else I’ve ever seen. I’m not leaving.”

After a few minutes of talking story, the Cords returned to cleaning the broiler and prepping food. Then, they planned to leave it to their staff to take care of customers the rest of the historic day.

“Better get done,” Robert said.

As for anything special to celebrate the occasion, the end of an era and a new direction in life, both shook their heads.

“No, probably not,” he said.

“Go to bed early,” Leilani added.

Robert, wearing a gray shirt, pen in its pocket, smiled.

“Maybe tomorrow, you know what I mean,” he said. “Not today. Too hot and too busy. It’s going to be emotional, too. There’s going to be folks coming by here we haven’t seen in a while. It’s going to be nice.”

And you can bet they all ordered burgers.

•••

Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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