Kona Welcomes a New Duke’s Restaurant

Kona Welcomes a New Duke’s Restaurant

Partner Content

It’s hard to imagine a more iconic restaurant brand in Hawaii than Duke’s, named for the world’s first surfing superstar and ambassador of aloha, Duke Kahanamoku. The first Duke’s restaurant in a series of beachfront locations launched in 1989 at Kalapaki Bay on Kaua‘i, followed by Duke’s Waikiki in 1992 and Duke’s Beach House Maui in 2009.

Known for island seafood, mammoth hula pie and a laid-back but celebratory vibe, Duke’s is part of the popular T S Restaurants empire that also operates Duke’s outposts in the California surf spots of Malibu, La Jolla and Huntington Beach, as well as Keoki’s Paradise in Poipu, Kaua‘i; Hula Grill in Waikiki and Ka‘anapali Beach, Maui; and Leilani’s on the Beach in Ka‘anapali. Yet one island in Hawai‘i has always been conspicuously absent from the T S Restaurants map: the one that shares its name with the state.

So it was big news for Hawai‘i Island, a.k.a. the Big Island, when T S Restaurants announced earlier this month it will open its fourth Duke’s at the newly renovated OUTRIGGER Kona Resort and Spa in late 2025. Taking over the former home of long-closed Rays on the Bay, which overlooks Keauhou Bay and the Pacific Ocean, the new Duke’s restaurant will be the cherry on top of the resort’s recent $60 million renovation.

Duke's Waikiki. Photo courtesy of: OUTRIGGER

“Duke’s Kona is the ideal restaurant partner for the exceptional space at OUTRIGGER Kona Resort & Spa,” said Jeff Wagoner, president and CEO of OUTRIGGER Hospitality Group. “Our investment in this property aims to enrich the local community just as much as it enhances the experience for our visitors. Welcoming this iconic restaurant into our resort represents a significant and cherished milestone for everyone involved.”

T S Restaurants CEO Jackie Reed also expressed excitement about the new Duke’s. “Since the company’s founding in 1977, it has been our goal to develop, build and personally operate a limited number of high-quality restaurants in Hawai‘i and California,” she said. “More than 47 years later, that goal continues to be met with what will soon be 14 restaurants across the two states. … We are honored to become a part of the Kona community through this partnership with OUTRIGGER.”

Although T S Restaurants is new to Hawai‘i Island, it has a long history with OUTRIGGER. The second-oldest Duke’s opened in 1992 at OUTRIGGER Waikiki Beach Resort, renowned for its ongoing Sunday afternoon concerts on the beach by Grammy-nominated pop-rock artist Henry Kapono. (The late Jimmy Buffett counted himself among his fans, covering Kapono’s song “Duke’s on Sunday” on his 2006 album Take the Weather With You.) Earlier this month Hula Grill Waikiki celebrated its 20th anniversary at the same OUTRIGGER resort, one floor above Duke’s in an open-air dining room overlooking Waikiki Beach. As the name suggests, Hula Grill has a special affinity for Hawaiian dance; this year will mark its 16th annual E Ola Mau Ka Hula award ceremony, given to a kumu hula who has made outstanding contributions to the perpetuation of the art form.

Henry Kapono playing at Dukes Restaurant
Photo courtesy of: OUTRIGGER

T S Restaurants, meanwhile, has a long history in Hawaii, beginning with its very first restaurant. After growing the Rusty Scupper chain on the mainland in the early 1970s, the late California friends Rob Thibaut and Sandy Saxten (note their surnames’ initials) sold their stake and decided to open restaurants where they liked to travel, beginning with Kimo’s  in Lahaina, Maui.

The restaurant on historic Front Street was among the many buildings destroyed in Lahaina’s devastating fires year, but T S Restaurants CEO Jackie Reed, who grew up on Maui and began her career as a hostess at Leilani’s on the Beach, has said in news reports that the company plans to rebuild. In the meantime, T S Restaurants Chairman Susie Saxten, daughter of co-founder Sandy Saxten, has been helping those affected by the fires through the company’s Legacy of Aloha program, which so far has raised and distributed more than $1.9 million to some 800  T S and Maui Brewing Co. employees and their families.

Outrigger Kona Resort
Photo courtesy of: OUTRIGGER

T S Restaurants’ support of Hawaiian culture and employees complements those of OUTRIGGER, founded in 1947 in Waikiki and inspired by Hawaiian traditions of voyaging and hospitality. At OUTRIGGER Kona Resort and Spa, Duke’s will join several new or freshly revamped restaurants showcasing island ingredients from seafood and beef to breadfruit, taro and coffee, including the new Piko Coffee and Wine Bar next to the adult pool, Wailele Café and Holua Poolside Bar & Lounge.

The OUTRIGGER resort also boasts new cultural video displays in the lobby as well as a new cultural center with workshops for guests and a free walking tour of the historic sites in the area. The birthplace of King Kamehameha III, Keauhou Bay is also home to manta rays, who can often be spotted from the restaurant space that next year will make quite a splash of its own.

Scroll to Top