During the process of bread making, kneaded dough must have some time to rise. During this process of rising, the yeast ferments (eats) the sugar, creating the dough and doubling it in size. The story of King’s Hawaiian’s rise to success is quite similar. Except in this case, the brand experienced exponential growth from its humble beginnings on Hawai‘i Island. We talked story with Mark Taira, the CEO of our presenting sponsor King’s Hawaiian–during this milestone year as his family’s company celebrates its 70th anniversary, and to see how patriarch Robert Taira took the family business beyond the Hawaiian Islands.
Mana Up: Your father Robert Taira founded King’s Hawaiian in his hometown of Hilo, Hawai‘i Island–how did he get his start?
Mark Taira: My father attended bakery school simply because he was amazed by the ability of bakery treats to bring joy to people’s lives. This desire to share joy was really what drove him to continue to grow the business and share his recipes with more people. A key lesson that I learned from him is that every customer is your neighbor and you should treat them as such. If you wouldn’t serve a product to a neighbor you shouldn’t serve it to anyone, this simple lesson is still key to our company culture.
MU: What do you think makes King’s Hawaiian round loaves of dough so special and has brought your company so much success over the last 70 years?
MT: I can think of three main elements. The first thing is that we’ve always been committed to the quality and consistency. Developing a strong relationship and trust is very difficult to do but very easy to lose, and we are always aware of our promise to deliver irresistible products to our customers. The second is that we’ve been very focused on our strategic plan and executing against it, all businesses have limited resources and ensuring our resources are all working towards the same goal has been key. Lastly, everyone needs a little luck, but I do believe that luck comes to the prepared. What’s the saying? plans may be useless but planning is invaluable…. we really believe that.
MU: What was it like growing up in the family business?
MT: Its funny, like most family food service businesses my siblings and I pretty much lived in the restaurant and bakery. Early mornings and late nights. It was a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun and it’s also a key reason why my family and I are so close. My father started the business, and I’m currently CEO, but it was, is, and always will be a family effort.
MU: After Robert moved operations and production to Torrance, California, your family shortly followed–what was that like?
MT: Taking the business to the mainland was a big journey and a big risk. At that time we had built the facility in Torrance we had only one product (the round bread) and no trucks to make deliveries. The stores had no idea what to do with a round bread because they were used to loaves and also had no experience with the sweet taste. It’s one of those things that in hindsight was a visionary idea but at the time was really risky. More late nights working on the manufacturing line and weekends driving trucks across country, it was a busy time but we got through it and it brought us closer. We also missed the direct interaction that we had with customers in the restaurant and that’s what led us to open the King’s Hawaiian Bakery Restaurant and Local Place in Torrance
MU: We’ve been so grateful to have partnered with King’s Hawaiian over the last few years. Can you tell us why supporting local entrepreneurs and companies is so important to your family’s business?
MT: My father would always tell me, “never forget those that helped us along the way.” I think its one of those things that goes back to plantation lifestyle in which everyone helped everyone. It’s taken us 70 years, but I think our family and our business is now positioned to give back in a meaningful way and we want to do what we can to support the next generation of Hawaii entrepreneurs. We’ve also learned so much from all of the entrepreneurs going through Mana Up, the future for Hawai‘i definitely looks bright.
MU: As a local company that has grown exponentially–now with headquarters and operations in Torrance, California, plus a facility in Oakwood, Georgia–how do you remain true to your Hawai‘i roots?
MT: Honestly, Hawai’i will always be my home and we try to bring Hawai‘i with us wherever we go. We’ve made a very concerted effort to maintain our culture of aloha and bring that culture to everyone that interacts with the company and brand. For us, that’s shown through the quality of our product and the way we value each employee and partner. The other part of maintaining our roots is helping the next generation and supporting their success, this is why we are so excited and appreciative to Meli, Brittany, and the rest of the Mana Up team for allowing us to play a small part. Also, funny story but one of the main reasons we chose Georgia is that I believe they have a lot of aloha spirit, it just comes with a southern accent!
MU: Do you have any advice for our graduating entrepreneurs from Mana Up’s Cohort 5, and any other local businesses looking to scale their business on a national or even global level?
MT: Im very aware that every business is its own unique puzzle that needs its own solution but one piece of advice that I have is to always make time for the important things. All too often in life and especially when you are building a business, all of your time is taken up by short term urgent tasks that push the truly important things to the side. Till this day, I have time blocked off on my schedule to focus on what’s truly important. Overarching purpose, long-term goals, and reflection.
MU: King’s Hawaiian is truly a model for budding entrepreneurs coming out of the islands as it has achieved so much success. What is the next step for the company?
MT: We have a lot of dreams and plans, all revolving around continuing to share a little bit of the aloha spirit with customers around the world. We have a vision of there being a Hawai‘i section in every grocery store and continuing to grow the awareness of the amazing products that can be found in Hawai‘i. King’s Hawaiian will play a role in this, but a large part will come from these new and exciting Hawai‘i brands
It is inspiring to see Robert Taira’s rise to success from starting his local Hilo-based bakery to building it into a now nationally recognized brand. We love to see Mark and the rest of the Taira family supporting our latest up-and-coming entrepreneurs and companies coming out of the islands. We’re also grateful to have them as Mana Up mentors, plus our presenting sponsor this year of our 2020 Broadcast Showcase: World Stage for Hawai‘i! In celebration of our event, they’re offering an amazing prize to one lucky winner–a Sweet Year of Sweet Bread–that’s an ENTIRE year of shipped boxes filled with King’s Hawaiian food products, plus a private virtual cooking class with Chef Bert Agor!
To enter to win this and many other fantastic prizes from our partners like Hawaiian Airlines and Foodland, simply register for Showcase HERE. Be sure to tune in on Friday, November 20 at 3:00 p.m. HST to see Mana Up’s most recent cohort of graduating entrepreneurs share their stories and products, catch performances by Hawai‘i’s rising musicians–including headliner, award-winning artist Josh Tatofi, and see if you win one of our amazing prizes... See you there!