In honor of Father’s Day, meet an innkeeper who got his start in the B&B world thanks to his dad. Meet Jade, the owner of the Hilltop Legacy and Oceanfront Legacy inns.
“I want to make sure that it’s clear that this all started because of my father. He’s the one who really helped me, without him I would never have considered doing this. I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me over all these years” - Jade Lee
Maggie Lundy: How did you get started running your B&B?
Jade Lee: The back story is that my father had been going through a pretty bad divorce that left him mentally and physically exhausted. He was unable to work, and we were living off of whatever savings he had for a few years. It finally got to the point where we looked at everything, and after a few more months we would be unable to live off the savings anymore.
It was about that time that my dad told me the idea of opening a bed and breakfast. He told me I could start it, but I would have to do it on my own. He’d be there to help, but I would have to run it.
That was my senior year of high school. When we first opened, I remember being in class and someone would be calling for reservations. I would have to tell my teacher that I needed to go to the bathroom, and call the guests back to make the reservations. It was funny, during high school everyone else had part-time jobs, working at the supermarket, and this was my job, handling the inn. That’s how it all began and it’s been so much fun ever since.
ML: Being an innkeeper is definitely not easy.
JL: Yes. We found that out real quick. We thought it would just be cleaning the rooms and all that, but we realized it’s an all-day job from when you wake up to when you go to bed. It’s something that you have to enjoy, or you won’t be able to do it.
ML: Did you enjoy going to inns before all this, or was this something that came more out of necessity?
JL: Well, I had a friend whose parents had a B&B. We’d seen them doing it, but other than that, I hadn’t had any experience with B&Bs. Since we started, it’s something I want to continue doing as I get older and what I want to do full time.
ML: I bet. It’s a fulfilling job!
JL: Yeah, meeting people that come over from all around the world. We make so many good friends and having them enjoy their stay is very fulfilling.
ML: You must get a lot of international guests.
JL: Oh yes. Most of our guests come from China and Japan, and we get a lot from Europe. We also get quite a few from the US as well. I’d say about 90% come from overseas.
ML: Is that what you enjoy most about being an innkeeper?
JL: Yes. For me, every morning when we have breakfast, I’m always there and I sit down with the guests. I learn about where they’re from and how different things are from here.
L:R Hilltop Legacy, Oceanfront Legacy
ML: What sets your B&B apart?
JL: I’d have to say the location. Our first B&B, Hilltop Legacy, the location is right in downtown Hilo, but in Hilo there’s a little hillside area. Because we’re at the top, it feels like you have no neighbors surrounding you. You feel like you’re way out in the country, because there’s no one else there, only you. But to go into town, you’re just a one-minute drive away from downtown Hilo. Plus you’ve got a spectacular view of Hilo Bay and the airport; you can see the planes take off and land.
ML: Which island is Hilo on?
JL: It’s just called the island of Hawai’i, but another name for it is the Big Island. It’s the biggest. All the other islands could fit inside of it.
ML: Could you explore the whole island?
JL: It’s about 100 miles from Hilo to the opposite side of the island, which is about two hours. If you’ve got the whole day, it would be about five or six hours and you could drive around the whole island.
ML: The aloha spirit sounds like really Southern hospitality.
JL: Yes! People here are just much more friendly, and everyone has the aloha spirit. You’ll see it wherever you go.
ML: What’s the temperature in Hilo like?
JL: It stays at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit year round.
ML: What do enjoy doing when you’re not at the inn?
JL: I don’t usually have much free time, but when I do it’s usually going down to the beach. Actually a lot of people don’t know about this, but on Mauna Kea Mountain, about once a year between January and April, we get a lot of snow up there. It’s about an hour drive from the inn. A lot of people will actually bring their snowboards and ride up there. There are little ski-lifts up there, but they’re at the very top. You’ll see guys in big trucks heading up the mountain, and a lot of the snowboarders will catch a ride up. They’ll drop you off, and you’ll ride down the mountain, and there will be people at the bottom waiting to pick you up and take you up again.
I’ve tried surfing before, but I wasn’t that good at it. For me, I enjoy the winter sports, or just going to the beach and relaxing down there.
ML: That’s crazy! How long does it last?
JL: It usually stays about two weeks and then it melts away. When you’re in Hilo, when we have snow, it’s great to drive along the beaches. The locals will head up to the mountains with their trucks and they’ll shovel loads of snow into the truck beds. Then what they’ll do is drive down to the beach, and dump it all out on the beach. So when you’re driving along the ocean, you’ll see a lot of snowmen built on the beach, and kids playing in the snow on the beach. It’s a really unique sight. A lot of the people really enjoy that.
ML: I never would have thought Hawaii would get snow, anywhere!
JL: Yes. When we do, a lot of the residents of Oahu, Maui, or Kauai make special trips down to the big island to play in the snow.
ML: Only the big island gets snow?
JL: Yes. It’s because of the elevation up there. Mauna Kea Mountain is at 13,000 feet, so it gets cold enough for snow up there.
ML: Are there any other big events that happen in Hilo?
JL: Yes, in April, we have the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. It’s a once a year, week-long event in Hilo. We have so many competitors from all over the world come. Some from Japan and on the mainland—even New York has hālaus, the schools to teach hula. This event dates way back, it’s our most popular event.
What to eat:
- Ken’s House of Pancakes – They’ve been open for at least 30 years now and are the only restaurant open 24 hours in Hilo. They’re really well known for their really huge menu of local foods. They also have some really good pancakes syrups they make there, like, guava, coconut, and passion fruit. Jade enjoys the loco moco there!
- Don’s Grill – Another local restaurant with a variety of local food and fresh fish.
- Spam! An island favorite is Spam musubi. It’s a slice of Spam with rice around it, sometimes with a scrambled egg, wrapped with roasted seaweed. It’s good for a packed lunch. All the kids here grow up always eating it, so it’s very popular here. Everyone enjoys it. This isn’t something you’ll find in a restaurant as it is usually homemade, but you can find it at local Hawai'ian convenience stores and even gas stations!
- Poke – Another local favorite, which consists of just fresh raw fish cut into little pieces. It can be seasoned, or just eaten dipped in shoyu.
What to do:
- Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
- Waipio Valley – It’s a huge valley you can hike down into, or if you have four-wheel drive you can drive into, and go to a mile-long black sand beach. There are hours of trails, where you can see waterfalls and streams. There are wild horses just walking around. They’re very friendly and will just come up to you. It’s also an old farming town. You’ll see people farming taro, which is used to make poi. Poi is a grey paste, that doesn’t really have much flavor. It’s used as a staple side, like how rice or potatoes would accompany a meal.
- Mauna Kea – The name of the mountain, but when translated to English it means the white mountain. Every year we get snow, so every year we get capped with white snow. It’s great for watching the sunset and for stargazing. When you’re at the summit of the mountain, you’re above all the clouds. There’s no light pollution at all. The sunsets up there are the best you’ll see in the world. Every night stargazing is free and open to the public, from around sunset to 10 pm. It’s hard to make out the normal constellations because the sky is just littered with stars.
- Shoyu: Soy sauce
- Aloha: Can be used for everything not just hello. It’s also synonymous with good bye and thank you.
- Dakine: A word for when you’re trying to explain something, but you can’t think of the right word. It’s used to give the general idea in replacement.
- Pau: Done.