Story by Lynn Cook
Photo by Olivier Koning
Robert Rustigian really gets around. All day every day for forty-five years, ever since October 6, 1965, he’s welcomed celebrities, aristocrats and the hoi polloi to the home of the most breathtaking 360- degree view you can find in Waikiki. Lana Turner, Carol Burnett, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Nabors … as maitre d’ of Hawai‘i’s only revolving restaurant, Top of Waikiki, Rustigian has seen them all walk through the door.
Now 87 and still at the restaurant every day, Rustigian says he is far too busy to count how many times he’s looped through the sky, but those who do numbers say he could easily qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records. Figure one revolution every hour, eight hours a day, seven days a week for forty-five years, and you’re at well over a hundred thousand.
It’s a long way from Armenia, where Rustigian was born. He jokes he “took a ride on the Mayflower” to America, where he was raised in Connecticut and joined the Navy. He fought in World War II and saw action from Guadalcanal to the Philippines. After the war came Muscle Beach in Los Angeles and life as a wrestler. Next, as Rustigian tells it, “I arrived in Hawai‘i in 1954 on a two-week vacation. After spending time in the sun, finding a job seemed to be a good idea.” He lived near the famous Lau Yee Chai restaurant, which was then larger than any fine-dining Chinese restaurant in America. He applied for a job, was hired and worked at the restaurant’s nightclub, the Gung Ho Lounge, until developer William Mau built and opened Top of Waikiki.
Though dress codes have relaxed since the early days, to the dapper Rustigian casual means wearing a suit. “On most evenings,” he says, “I wear my tux.” He still works out (“about an hour a day”) and makes his own tabbouleh with onion, garlic, parsley, tomatoes and olive oil. Other than his daily revolutions in the sky, does he ever travel? “Why should I?” he asks. “This is paradise. If I want cold, I can stick my fist in the freezer.”