Unique Island Treats Go Global

Punaluu Bake Shop is much more than sweet bread today

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 sweet bread that made it famous still ranks high on the menu of popular treats and can be ordered locally and on the Mainland(www.bakeshophawaii.com).

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.

Clarence Ariola

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 sweet bread, 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.

Clarence Ariola

Position: Safety and Security Officer
Location: Kaua’i Marriott Resort

Safety and security officer Clarence Ariola is a grandfather and has been described “as gentle and caring a person as you will ever meet.”

But Clarence’s calm demeanor belies a black belt in the martial art of kajukenbo, a deep commitment to duty, the ability to remain cool under the most trying of circumstances, and boundless energy.

He can be found at the Kaua’i Marriott Resort working overtime, filling in when the hotel is short-staffed, responding to guest requests or medical emergencies, supervising his 24-member staff, and even handling shipping and receiving or beach duties that aren’t part of his responsibilities.

Always poised and collected, Clarence also exercises his brand of inspirational leadership through his volunteer activities, through his support of the Blood Bank, Visitor Industry Charity Walk, Kauai United Way and martial arts instruction.