Their father, Spencer Fullerton Weaver Sr, was one of the nation’s leading architects in the 1920s. Known as Major Weaver; among many other projects, his firm designed the Waldorf-Astoria, the Hotel Pierre in New York City, the Biltmore Hotels in Los Angeles and Florida, and the Breakers in Palm Beach. He designed and owned the Park Land and Lexington Hotels in New York.
Their mother, Emily Maloney Stokes Weaver, was a noted tennis player; she won two national indoor tennis doubles championships in 1914 (with Clare Cassel) and 1918 (with Eleanor Goss Lanning.)
The family lived in an apartment on Park Avenue, New York and had a country estate known as ‘Spencecliff,’ in East Hampton, Long Island, NY. (washington-edu)
But that ‘Spencecliff’ is not the basis for this story – this story is about the partnership of brothers Spence and Cliff and the Hawaiʻi business they founded, Spencecliff Restaurants.
Queen’s Surf (with its Barefoot Bar,) Tahitian Lanai, Coco’s, Tiki Tops, Fisherman’s Wharf, Senor Popo’s, Trader Vic’s, Kelly’s, South Seas, Ranch House … the list goes on and on.
It was a family operation, run by brothers Spencer (Spence) Fullerton Weaver Jr (May 18, 1911 – Aug 30, 1996) and Clifton (Cliff) Stokes Weaver (Jan 7, 1917 – Jan 23, 1992.)
After a couple visits to the Islands, the boys moved and later, intrigued by the fleet of hot dog trucks in Long Island, they got into the food service business with a half-dozen ‘Swanky Franky’ hot dog carts in 1939; then, later set up a stand at Ena Road and Ala Moana in Waikīkī.
Then came the Patio Restaurant downtown and the Snowflake Bakery; the Weavers also had a catering contract to feed five-thousand at Hickam.
After service in World War II, they formed the Spencecliff Corporation; it grew, and over the next few decades dominated the restaurant scene.
They opened the Sky Room (1948) at the airport terminal at John Rogers Field (now Honolulu International Airport.) In addition to the pre-flight airport presence, Spencecliff catered the food to airline passengers on ten major airlines, including American, JAL, Canadian Pacific, Qantas and Air New Zealand.
At one time, the Spencecliff operation included 50-restaurants, cabarets, coffee shops and snack bars in Hawaiʻi, almost exclusively on the island of Oʻahu. It also operated two hotels, three bakeries and a catering service in Hawaiʻi and two hotels in Tahiti. There were more than 1,500 employees.
Spence Weaver would later be inducted into the Hawaii Restaurant Association’s First Annual Hall of Fame in 2007.
One of the most famous of their operations was the Queen’s Surf (acquired in 1949.) They converted the former home of heir to Fleischmann’s Yeast fortune, Christian Holmes (Holmes also owned Coconut Island,) and turned it into Queen’s Surf; the home was originally build in 1914 by WK Seering of International Harvester Co.
Later (1971,) the property was condemned and Queen’s Surf and the neighboring Kodak Hula Show were evicted and the Waikīkī beachfront area was turned into a public park.
In addition, to the nightclub, there were coffee shops – lots of them – as well as other family-favorites.
Spencecliff was renowned for taking care of its employees, many of whom served for decades. Reportedly, each employee would receive personalized card and a birthday cake from the company bakery the day before their birthday, then were given the day off on their birthday.
All was not happy for the family; in 1958, Cliff’s 15-year-old son, Billy was killed in a tiger shark attack off the Mokulua Islands, on the Windward side.
Then their ownership in the restaurant operations came to an end. In the mid-1980s, increased rents and high interest rates affected Spencecliff’s bottom line; on July 14, 1986, they sold the operation to the Japanese firm, Nittaku Enterprises Co, for $6-million.
Unfortunately, the new owners didn’t have the same understanding/appreciation for the operations and it slowly disappeared.
Gone are the familiar favorites we used to enjoy. On the windward side, Tiki Tops was a family regular; and the ride over the Pali often took us to Fisherman’s Wharf (and its treasure chest for the kids.)