Customer Comfort Is No. 1

By Annie & Alice Yeung
Wednesday - August 16, 2006
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The faces of Panya (from left):Brian Chan, Sheryl Estrada, Kawika Isaia, Alice Yeung, Brice Nakamura, Annie Yeung and Maureen Ackarath
The faces of Panya (from left):Brian Chan, Sheryl Estrada,
Kawika Isaia, Alice Yeung, Brice Nakamura, Annie Yeung
and Maureen Ackarath

Comfort food. That’s probably the best way to describe our cuisine here at Panya. It’s also the reason we feel our customers keep coming back again and again. We provide them with delicious, home-cooked style, fresh food at reasonable prices in a trendy, yet comfortable, atmosphere in a convenient location. Once people come to Panya, we know we’ll see them again. That makes us feel really good - that all of our hard work is worth it.

Panya celebrates its 10th anniversary next June, marking a decade of challenges and triumphs for us. We started out just wanting to have a bakery like we have in Hong Kong, with delicious fresh breads and pastries in a self-serve display. There was no place like that in Hawaii at the time, and when Alice found an opportunity to open a bakery at McCully Shopping Center, we decided to go for it. Alice had just finished college, and I was working in retail after graduating from UH-Manoa. We knew we wanted to make our home here and have our own business.

The McCully location worked out unexpectedly well, and word started spreading about our bakery. To this day, we have fond memories of our landlord there, Mr. Marn. Although he had doubts about our capabilities and endurance, he gave us great support and trusted these two sisters from Hong Kong without much experience, but full of dreams and youthful enthusiasm. Although glad about our growing success, we were happiest about making Mr. Marn proud of us.

Our business developed as a reaction to what customers wanted. They loved our pastries and bread, but asked about cakes, so we started selling those, too. Customers wanted to sit down and have their pastries with beverages, and businesses started asking if we could do wholesale. So, we rented a bigger space with a bigger kitchen to accommodate that, and also decided to build a chic cafe behind the 7-Eleven across from the IBM Building near Ward Centre. We added a comprehensive beverage menu with fresh fruit juices, premium teas and coffees. Customers said they wanted us to add soup and salads to the menu, too, so we did and, like our pastries, everything is fresh and made from scratch. We were enjoying the sweet smell of success.

And one day we were told that we had to move.

We decided to take another challenge and open a “real” restaurant in Ala Moana Center - a bistro, as well as our bakery. We created a menu of foods we like eating at home and when we travel. We wanted to offer a combination menu so every member of a group who dined at Panya could find something they liked. Our menu expanded to include breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of course, people also wanted to have a drink with their meal, so our bar was born.

We now have two locations: Panya bakery, bistro and bar at Ala Moana Center, which seats about 45. The back-up kitchen and the headquarters for the bistro are located in Kakaako at Queen and Cooke streets, where we bake and sell all of our bakery items, serve breakfast and lunch, as well as house our catering division and offices.

Our customers represent all ages, races and walks of life - and yes, even the famous! Among our regulars are Michelle Wie, Fiji, Jon DeMello, Vicky Cayetano, Robert Cazimero, Jake Shimabukuro, Carole Kai, Frank DeLima and Chef Chai Chaowasaree. We know every customer will come back for their “new favorite” or to try something else on the menu. It thrills us to know we have surprised them and exceeded their expectations.

Of course, we both work long hours every day, and we can’t do it alone. We have about 60 employees and dedicated managers we depend on to maintain the quality, service and hospitality people have come to expect from Panya. With so many restaurants in Hawaii we never take anything for granted, and rely strongly on word-of-mouth from satisfied customers for our success.

Our customers shaped our business, and we will continue to listen to them.

Next Week: Edmond Aczon, President of Oahu Arts Center

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