In 1878, three commercial sugar plantations (Honokaʻa Sugar Company, Paʻauhau Sugar Company and Pacific Sugar Mill) existed in Hāmākua in the vicinity of a village that later became Honokaʻa. A labor shortage beginning in the mid-19th century prompted the importation of foreign workers. The Chinese were the first to arrive, followed by Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, Puerto Rican and Filipinos over the next 40 years. As Honokaʻa grew and evolved, a variety of businesses, offering wide-ranging choices of goods and services, eventually made Honokaʻa the largest town on the Hāmākua coast and the second largest on the island (behind Hilo.)
In 1910, the population of Honokaʻa stood at 9,037, a population sufficient to support a hotel along with lodging for travelers, salesmen and laborers in transit to the plantations to support the growing village. Hotel Honokaʻa Club did not have a name when it first opened, and was allegedly labeled as the result of a vote by club “members,” who were likely boarders and community members who frequented the hotel. The “Club” in the name reflects the use of the establishment from its inception as a nexus for entertainment and drinking, while the hotel portion served as a residence and lodging for immigrants, unmarried sugar cane workers, paniolo (cowboys), and travelling salesmen.