Water, Waves, and Wandering
Joe grew up in Virginia and always had an affinity for sunshine, water, and beach food. He also understood that "time" was the real treasure of life. He never worked a summer until he was thirty years old - opting only to lifeguard (not real work to Joe). He learned the love of water and beach food from his father who never missed an opportunity to drive to the beach at Ocean City, or go water skiing on the Severn River near Annapolis, MD. With time, Joe became a very good water skier and later a barefoot water skier in California - "footin" with some of the top barefooters from the United States and Australia. Joe wasn't really that good but they were a friendly bunch and let the "old man" hang out! Here is Joe barefooting backwards in the bay area of San Francisco at age 40.
At the age of 21 - before moving to California - Joe got his first taste of the beaches of Hawaii. He and his best friend Rick decided to road-trip across the country (something Joe has done many times since) and fly to Hawaii. They holed up near Makaha - a world-famous surf spot on the island of Oahu - and spent most weekends watching surfing tournaments, (some of which were broadcast on ABC Wide World of Sports back home). It was only natural that Joe would want to run off to the islands since, as a kid, he had repeatedly watched his dad's Kodachrome slides of his Navy tour in Hawaii. This 1949 photo shows Joe's dad paddling his hollow wooden surfboard at Waikiki Beach - just a short distance from (and a few short years after) Pearl Harbor.
Twenty five years later when Joe was in the islands himself (1974), a new craze was sweeping the mainland back home - Puka Shell necklaces (Puka means hole) - and Joe and Rick feverishly collected Pukas on the beach to make necklaces for girlfriends, moms, and friends back home. When Joe's mother passed away in 2015, the last thing she carried with her was Joe's Puka necklace.
While in the islands, Joe also learned about "Huli-Huli" chicken. On seemingly every corner, the locals were grilling chicken over large fire pits raising money for their local church or school. Huli-Huli means "to flip," and the men would slow-cook the chicken which they had "trapped" between top and bottom wire-mesh grill-tops, which had handles on both ends. The cooks standing on each side of the grill would then "flip" all the chicken in one master stroke. It was quick, it was efficient, it was Huli-Huli chicken. Joe and Rick stayed in the islands and ate lots of chicken until lack of work sent them packing for the mainland - but by then the island experience had already cemented Joe's love of the beach life, beach food, and Huli-Huli chicken. The photo to the left shows Joe in the early 80's flipping what would become his "Huli-Huli Burgers."
After a stint in the U.S. Navy (reserve) - Joe headed off to college at Arizona State University. It didn't have a beach, but it DID have the most sunny days on the mainland! While there, Joe met the love of his life - a cute Iowa girl named Leah - and upon graduation they were married and Leah joined Joe as they both wandered through several fascinating jobs in California. They were very happy being vagabonds - never staying in any one place for more than three years - but after almost ten years of wandering, the winds of chance blew them into a beautiful little harbor called Bakersfield.
Soon Joe bought into a small struggling restaurant and - taking the gamble of his life - started Coconut Joe's. Finally he would have a place to offer beach food to all the people who hung out on his "beach" every day. Joe has always been a dreamer. To him - the parking lot is a marina, and the cars are sailboats. Joe believes that life should be a joy and the world is one big gathering of locals on the beach. The only thing to do, Joe thought, was to feed them.
And feed them he did - expanding the restaurant to three-times its original size in order to accommodate the growing crowds. It has been an amazing run to be sure, as Coconut Joe's has received many accolades from customers and food critics alike. Joe was even recognized by the Governor of Hawaii in 2007 for his contribution to bringing the spirit of aloha to the mainland.
In addition to waiting tables and chatting with guests, Joe today focuses on his newest passion - Coconut College. He is a speaker at many conferences and special events both in Bakersfield and the greater west-coast area, where he shares lessons he has learned about life-meaning and fulfillment. Joe believes that traditional school is little more than a training center for work - "preparation for production" as he puts it. Joe designed Coconut College to teach participants about life!
Joe has been happily married to his beautiful wife Leah for 34 years and has been blessed with three children he adores - Ami, Kate and Ivan. (See more pictures below.)
Row 1: 1) Florida beaches 2) Bethany Hamilton (Soul Surfer) 3) The Swamp (U of F) 4) Joe & Leah
Row 2: 1) Kailua, Hawaii 2) Don Ho 2) Crazy Al 3) Hawaii
Row 4: 1) Ivan and Ami 2) Family at the lake 3) The whole family 4) Naples, Florida
Row 6: 1) Leah & Joe 2) Brother and sister 3) Jermale Turner (rising star) 4) Sunshine in Oregon!