Modern Times

Providing wines for the Taste of Honolulu is proof that Times Super Markets is changing its image under fifth-generation grocer Roger Godfrey

Wednesday - June 16, 2005
By Alice Keesing
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The times, they are a changing at Times. In the early days, Times Super Markets were considered the most modern of food centers in Hawaii. That was half a century ago. In recent years, it has to be said that it didn’t look like much had changed. Going in the doors of one of the 12 stores was a bit like stepping back in time.

But when the kamaaina company changed hands three years ago, Times started moving again. Catching up with the new breed of foodies, Times is now a place where you can pick up fresh locally grown mesclun or high-grade sterling silver steak. You can browse an invigorated wine selection. Or pick up a restaurant- quality grilled fish plate for dinner. All of it to the company’s new mantra of “Everyday low prices.”

“Obviously we needed to update our stores because it’s been years since they’ve had anything done to them — years,” says president Roger Godfrey, who pauses to laugh before adding, “Years and years and years.”

Godfrey took the helm of Times when California-based PAQ Inc., bought it in 2002. The sale ended local family ownership of one of Hawaii’s early business success stories.

Wallace and Albert Teruya had little capital and no experience running a grocery when they opened their first Times store in 1949. But the two Nisei brothers took on the plantation-era companies that dominated business in those days and went on to build what is now Hawaii’s third largest supermarket chain.

The Times name came from the brothers’ first business venture, a restaurant on Kapiolani Boulevard called the Times Grill. The Teruyas liked the name because of the progressive image it carried.

That progressive image was left behind some time ago, and competition from hefty Mainland competitors led to stagnating sales.

Roger Godfrey and Lyle Fujioka
toast to Times’ involvement
in Taste of Honolulu

The challenge for the new owners is to bring Times into today’s realm of delis and bakeries and wine stores. If anyone has the pedigree for the task, it’s Godfrey. He was born into the business.

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wis., he was the fifth generation in his family’s grocery business. Their chain of Sentry stores is still there, although his family sold them in 1987. As a kid he worked in the warehouse unloading box carts; he later went on to become a store manager.

In 1974 he left the family business and came to Hawaii where he has worked his entire career in the food business, most notably as Hawaii division manager of Fleming Cos. Inc., which supplies many of the island’s supermarkets.

After retiring from Fleming in 2000, Godfrey played an instrumental role in the sale of Times, bringing together the Teruyas and the Quinns, who own PAQ. He initially intended to be a consultant in the Times makeover, but ended up stepping into the leadership role.

While he and Times’ 950 employees set off in search of the new, younger shopper, one of their challenges is to keep the loyal customers for which the supermarket is well-known. In the hotly competitive supermarket business, such customers are like gold.

“We think that Times enjoyed the business of the older Japanese population,” Godfrey says. “What we were trying to do is emphasize the fact that we hadn’t changed the personnel because we wanted to preserve that (customer) base, we valued it highly.”

Godfrey stresses that when the company changed hands, the only new additions were himself and two other managementlevel positions. While the company may no longer be locally owned, it keeps something of that kamaaina feel — a substantial number of the stores’ employees have been with the company for 20 years or more.

What is changing is the look of the stores, what’s in them and what you pay at check out.

The overhaul started with a large-scale spring cleaning.

“In the first 90 days we spent a lot of money in just cleaning the stores, physically cleaning them,” Godfrey says. “Scrubbing the shelves, scrubbing the floors, bringing in a janitorial service, eliminating excess displays.”

With the added buying power of its Mainland owner, Times also cut its prices — on 6,000 grocery items to be exact. The supermarket chain used to be one of the most expensive in the Islands; now Godfrey believes it is on the lower end.

The company also is delving into more exciting food offerings — it’s gone organic, natural, low carb, Jewish, Hispanic ... It emphasizes its fresh fruit and veggies from Island growers, offering things like Nalo greens, Maui strawberries and Heirloom tomatoes (the kind that look sorta ugly but taste like a tomato should taste).

And the entire management team (who show a propensity for talking about good food) will go into raptures discussing the sterling silver beef.

“Once you eat sterling silver, you can’t go back to any other,” promises Gerald Hiyane, director of meat operations.

When Times bought Fujioka’s wine store last year, it also added some much-needed class to its wine selection. The supermarket’s new website will soon include a wine-lover’s information treasure trove on hot new arrivals, food and wine events and special promotions.

For the impact of the fully made-over Times, you need to go to Waimalu, where the store was recently renovated. Woodlook floors have replaced the worn, gray tile; the lights are brighter; the displays are slicker; and the store sports a brand new deli. The catchphrase is bright, light, local.

Food services and beverage director Tim Garrard says the store is far ahead of the competition in producing its own food on-site.

“We keep a corporate chef at the Waimalu store,” he says. “It’s like a restaurant kitchen. We prepare salads, entrees, we can grill fresh fish with vegetables, we vine-ripen our tomatoes, we use fresh herbs …”

The Waimalu store is the prototype. Other stores are slated for renovation, starting with the flagship Beretania store within the next year.

“When people come to the Beretania store they will know that Times is here to play at a very serious level,” Garrard says.

This, they say, is the return of the progressive Times.

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