Unique Island Treats Go Global

Mufi Hannemann
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November 16, 2011 | Hawaiian Airlines Discount Share

A selection of Punaluu Bake Shop products

The past weekend found me in beautiful Naalehu, on the southernmost point of the United States. I was there for a couple of events: the Ka’u School of the Arts festival, a celebration of the artistry and creativity of the members of this tiny community, and the groundbreaking for the Ka’u Family Health Center, a project that brought neighbors together to make this goal a reality.

Naalehu holds a special place in my heart because I lived there in the late 1980s when I worked for C. Brewer and Company. One of the early discoveries I made as I familiarized myself with Brewer’s holdings was the excellent sweetbread being produced at the company’s Sea Mountain Resort in Punaluu. While the sweetbread was being enjoyed by many residents in the area, I thought it could appeal to a much wider market.

That prompted me to discuss with Brewer executives J.W.A. “Doc” Buyers and Marvin Tilker a proposal to establish the Punaluu Bake Shop and Visitor Center. The Punaluu Bake Shop and Visitor Center opened in Naalehu in 1991, constructed on company property where I also resided.

Twenty years later, this enterprise continues to do well very well as a matter of fact.

When I returned to Naalehu the other day, my old friends and buddies couldn’t wait to take me back to the shop where I had spent so much time. Current owner Duane Kurisu and his company have transformed the business.

The center has expanded considerably and now serves a variety of plate lunches, sandwiches and bakery treats, and offers gazebos for outdoor dining on four acres of landscaped grounds. Of course, the sweetbread that made it famous still ranks high on the menu of popular treats and can be ordered locally and on the Mainland (http://www.bakeshophawaii.com).

They’re serving much more than sweetbread at the Punaluu Bake Shop

Twenty years ago, visitors used to whiz through Naalehu on their way from Volcanoes National Park to Kailua-Kona, or vice versa.

Maybe they’d make a stop at South Point or buy gasoline at Waiohinu. But the center staff tells me that nowadays an estimated 200,000 people visit the center annually.

That’s a remarkable figure, which is a testament to the quality of an excellent product that’s unique to the Hawaiian Islands, as well as a testament to the power of the visitor industry in “spreading the word” about a particular island treat to people all over the world. You can probably name a number of these treats: Kauai Kookies ... Leonard’s Bakery malasadas ... Mountain View Bakery stone cookies ... Tip Top Motel & Café cookies… Home Maid Bakery’s crispy manju ... Matsumoto Shave Ice ... Big Island Cookies ... Kitch ‘n Cook’d Maui Potato Chips ... Tasaka Guri-Guri ... Char Hung Sut’s manapua ... Nisshodo’s mochi ... Atebara potato chips ... Kanemitsu Bakery & Restaurant’s Molokai bread ... and Liliha Bakery’s coco puffs, among them.

These businesses that began as mom-and-pop operations and remain so, and which became island institutions, are joined by restaurants, food growers and producers, and other enterprises that not only make Hawaii a unique place for cuisine and food, but contribute to our economy as well.

It was great to see old friends and make new ones during my return to Naalehu. It was also great to see that the Punaluu Bake Shop and Visitor Center has thrived, and that its sweetbread, once known mostly to the folks of Ka’u, has blossomed into a product that continues to attract residents and visitors alike to this special corner of the world.


Elmer Ancheta

Position: Front Service Clerk

Location: Sheraton Waikiki

At the Sheraton Waikiki, front service clerk Elmer Ancheta’s nickname is “MacGyver” for all the tools and gadgets he carries to fix things.

But Elmer usually relies on his wits and initiative to help guests with their problems, to wit: When two visually impaired, elderly guests appeared lost and needed directions to the hotel’s catamaran, he escorted them to the boat, met them when they returned, and even helped them back to their rooms. When a Japanese tourist forgot her handbag in a cab, Elmer promptly called company after company in order to find the taxi and return the purse. He even helped a soldier in uniform mend his torn pants by calling on the services of the hotel seamstress.

Elmer Ancheta lives by three simple rules: Go through life smiling, have fun and love what you do. That’s why he is his department’s “Ambassador of Aloha” and a model for co-workers.

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