Huli-Huli chicken creator Ernest Morgado dies at 85
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
When Ernest Morgado cooked up a batch of teriyaki chicken for a group of farmers in 1955, little did he know that he would go on to be the "Huli-Huli Chicken" king of Hawai'i.
Ernest Morgado has said he came up with the name "Huli-Huli" quite by accident.
Morgado was the head of Pacific Poultry when he barbecued his first chickens at a farmer's meeting. The gathering expected to be fed and Morgado decided to broil some chickens that had been marinated in special teriyaki sauce.
The farmers loved the chicken and asked for more.
Morgado quickly realized he had a hit and began to market the teriyaki chicken.
"He just started doing it as fund-raisers. It was a recipe that my grandmother used to make and it just went from there," said Kathy Vest, Morgado's daughter.
With the idea hatched, Morgado needed to come up with a name for his new product other than teriyaki chicken. "Huli-Huli," he said, came quite by accident.
Morgado barbecued the mass quantities of chickens between two grills. When one side of the chicken halves was cooked, someone would shout, "huli," Hawaiian for "turn."
Morgado liked the name "huli-huli" so much that he registered the trademark with the Territory of Hawai'i in 1958 and the federal government in 1965.
Over the years, schools, charities and other nonprofit organizations have sold Huli-Huli chicken as a way to raise money.
Jaren Hancock, Pacific Poultry vice president of marketing and Morgado's stepson, said he could not guess how much has been raised selling Huli-Huli chicken.
"As far as the numbers are concerned, I really don't know. But I guarantee you that it's in the millions," Hancock said.
Many competitors have come and gone, but Huli-Huli chicken has withstood the test of time. In 1986, Morgado began selling the sauce in local stores.
"People kept saying, 'We want to buy the sauce,' so that's when he finally decided to sell the sauce," Vest said. "Even on the Mainland I talk to people who have been here and they say, 'I know Huli-Huli.' "
In 1981, Morgado entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest chicken barbecue ever. His company cooked 46,386 chicken halves at a fund-raiser for Iolani School.
Morgado was born in Hilo, and his family moved to Honolulu when he was a youngster. He graduated from St. Louis School and served as a chief petty officer in naval intelligence during World War II.
Following the war, Morgado got into the grain business and soon found himself building the first mechanized livestock feed manufacturing facility in the Philippines.
In the 1960s, he moved to Honolulu and oversaw the construction of the city's first bulk grain elevators at Honolulu Harbor.
As a side job, Morgado got together with chicken farmer Mike Asagi and founded Pacific Poultry in 1954. The company sold chickens under the 'Ewa brand.
In addition to his business, Morgado served as the vice consul for Portugal. In 1981, he was awarded the Honolulu Portuguese Chamber of Commerce's "Council's Cup" for his years of service.
Morgado also served on the state Board of Agriculture and was a longtime member of the Outrigger Canoe Club.
He is survived by his wife, Fay; sons, Jaren and Brent Hancock; daughter, Kathleen Vest; eight grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.
Visitation from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Church of Jesus Christ at Latter-day Saints, Honolulu Tabernacle. Services will be held at 5:30 p.m.