It’s early on a chilly Makawao morning, but I’ve come Upcountry to participate in ritual that stretches back a century: waiting in line on Baldwin Avenue to get into Komoda’s Bakery. It’s a holiday tradition for me, and many more on Maui.
One hundred years of Komoda’s. It’s hard to believe, but at the same time, not hard to believe. Back in November of 1916 when it first opened, Komoda’s sat kitty-corner to its current location–where Polli’s stands now–but I’m certain their saimin, fresh bread and sandwiches were line-worthy then. It’s a mixed crowd today, tourists and locals alike are forming up to get their goodies. Their selection ranges from the bakery’s popular butter rolls, cream puffs and stick donuts to their anpan, turnovers, pies, cakes and long johns.
Soon, T Komoda Store and Bakery patriarch Calvin Shibuya, his wife Betty and their daughter Michelle welcome me into the store. It suddenly dawns on me that I’ve been eating pastries and breads from Komoda’s Bakery my whole life. Other mom and pop markets, okazuya and bakeries have closed, but I can still buy from Komoda’s. The morning hustle is in full force, and giant bakers racks–full of wonderful sweets–are getting pushed into position for the day. In the first half hour that I’m there, pies and pre-packed boxes of cream puffs fly out of the bakery. This is hardly surprising–on a recent Monday I stopped by at 1pm, only to find that they had sold out of everything a full three hours before their 4pm closing time.
I ask Calvin about tourists discovering Komoda’s. This is something he’s seen really take off over the last decade.
“We were mostly local,” he says. “Then when we had the depression in 2008 sales really really dropped. The locals haven’t picked up the level of their purchases as it used be, which indicates the economy is still not as strong as it used to be. But that is where the tourists have filled in. The highlight for me is the continued support that we get from the community. We are so blessed with the loyalty of our customers. In recent years, the tourists have really helped us out in sales. Without them, I don’t think we would have success. Through their support we have been successful for 99 years.”
Calvin and Betty and their family are also a big part of Komoda’s continued success.
“I’m a newbie,” Calvin says. “I only started in 1990. I am an outsider. My wife is the Komoda. The reason why I am involved is because back in 1990 the bakers–chief baker Ikuo Komoda and his brothers–were all reaching retirement age. They were considering all retiring. Consequently, the business at the bakery was in jeopardy of closing unless someone came in to help. That is how I got involved.”
After his career in the Air Force, Calvin moved back to Maui to take up baking.
“My plan was to always come back to Maui to take care of family obligations,” he says. “I have always had that in the back of my mind that I was going to come back here. However my goal was to go fly for the airlines. But because the business needed help I decided to forgo that and come here and work in the bakery. Which I don’t mind, it is really rewarding. To run the business, and apply some of the things that you learned in school.”
Calvin says Ikuo taught him what he needs to know, but he’s also had to develop his own recipes and innovate.
“If we cannot get an ingredient, we stop making a product,” Calvin tells me. “A good case in point is our cakes. Ikuo used to make the cakes from scratch, and it was tedious and time-consuming. Very manpower intensive.When Ikuo fell ill and could not work any more, we did not have any cakes because he was the one making all of our cakes. We took the cakes off of the menu for a year. And then I said, ‘God, we have to have cakes, we are a full-scale bakery, I am a baker!’ And that is when I started to experiment. Although I have his recipe, I just couldn’t do it his way. It was too much on me. I went ahead and developed my own recipe, testing it on my workers. They are the ones that tell me it’s ok. Right now, people can’t tell the difference, and it’s a really simple system. I am really glad I came up with this idea to redevelop the cakes.”
Calvin and Ikuo also developed the bakery’s current bread recipe together.
“Our bread recipe is a combination recipe between Ikuo and I,” says Calvin. “We came up with this. The original recipe was forgotten when the person that was baking the bread couldn’t remember what the ingredients and the proportions were.”
Ikuo Komoda returned to Makawao from baking school in 1947, toting his pastry recipes that have since formed the bakery’s standby cream puffs and stick donuts. The bakery, opened by Takezo Komoda and his wife Shigeri had already been around for 31 years. Later, Takeo Komoda, the eldest son of Takezo and Shigeri, ran the business with his wife Kiyuko with other family members. Today, Takezo and Shigeri’s granddaughter Betty, her husband Calvin and their daughter Michelle carry on the traditions and recipes. Calvin says the cream puffs he prepares each day are identical to Ikuo’s.
“The recipe has not changed,” says Shibuya. “Although Ikuo is now gone–he passed away about a month ago. He entrusted the formula to me and I continue to use it.”
Of course, tastes do change. The cream puff is not as popular as it used to be. Since the Shibuyas have come to Komoda’s, Calvin says the stick donut is king.
“The volume of cream puff sales have dwindled,” he says. “Now the stick donut has become an icon like the cream puff. The volume of the stick donuts has more than quadrupled since the ’90s. The volume has just really gone up, while the cream puff has gone down.”
Putting donuts on a stick wasn’t even Ikuo’s idea–in fact, it was a customer’s.
“It was recommended by a customer from Seabury Hall,” says Calvin. “Ikuo did not know who the person was, just somebody from Seabury recommended ‘put it on a stick.’ He took that to heart and started making the stick donuts. Probably the ingredients have changed but basically the recipe remains the same. It’s not a wheat dough; it’s a different kind of dough. When anyone first tries a stick donut they always say ‘Wow! That is so good.'”
While the popularity of various products has changed, the sales volume has returned to where it used to be before 2008.
“Our sales have come back up,” says Calvin. “The volume of product is based on history–if it’s a holiday or standard day. The volume will be different for Christmas and Thanksgiving. After New Year’s it will slow down. Bread is not as popular as the butter rolls. The butter rolls are really popular. The pies and cakes have maintained the same level. Except for pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving–people love our pumpkin pies.”
Calvin says turning 100 this year is exciting for the family and the business.
“Turning 100 is an achievement that not very many people can claim,” he says. “I would like to have a really big celebration in November. What the celebration is and what we plan on doing is up to my daughters. They are the planning committee. They are supposed to come up with the ideas.”
For them the key to staying in business this long comes down to your workforce and attitude–it’s not always about expanding. Komoda Bakery has come into its centennial with just a brick and mortar store. They have no website to maintain and post to no social media sites. Right now, 40 percent of the bakery’s staff are family members. But when I ask Calvin if he’s hiring, he laughs, saying he just hired someone and she’s a Godsend.
Here’s how Calvin explains their longevity: “First of all, you have to have a niche,” he says. “If it’s a product or a service, whatever. Once you find your niche, you have to maintain the quality. Quality control is so important. You have to maintain the same level of service or taste in your products. Don’t try to overdo and stress out your work place. Be happy with what you have. Do not only think about expansion. I think a lot of businesses fail because they expand and only want to get bigger and bigger. It’s a downfall, you can’t do it. Especially if your workforce is maintained at the same level. You can’t do it and you are going to stress them out.”
After the New Year, the bakery took a few days off and but they will reopen at 7am on Thursday, Jan. 7. They are open weekdays except Wednesday from 7am to 4pm. They’re open on Saturdays from 7am to 2pm but closed on Sunday.
The full service bakery has an extensive menu, which they’ve kept at reasonable prices. There are chocolate and vanilla cream puffs, pies, donuts, cakes, cupcakes, malasada, bread, rolls, hamburger and hot dog buns, cookies, turnovers, long johns and more. I’ve always loved their hot dogs, which come out hot in fresh bread buns.
There are so many items on the menu that I’ve made new favorites through the years. My latest are cupcakes, cakes and pies. I always pick up two bags of butter rolls, one for the office and one for home. The store also displays a lot of memorabilia of a running a business in a bygone era tucked into corners here and there, along with tons of pantry essentials, birthday cake candles, postcards and logo tee shirts.
Calvin says they plan to make a few changes to the menu this year.
“I have had a strategic meeting with the powers that be and we are going to be scaling back and discontinuing certain products,” he says. “Items that are not really profitable, or too manpower intensive. We are going to start cutting some products out. Eventually, because right now I am the only one doing the baking”
My goal is to make sure I’ve tried everything before they get pulled, but in the meantime I ask Calvin why he doesn’t just bring in someone else to help with the baking.
“I have considered having someone come in and help with the baking, but what I am looking for is someone to take over,” says Shibuya. “It’s time for me to retire. Family-wise, nobody has raised their hand. I am waiting.”
Cream and cocoa puffs $1.75
Long John $1.75
Stick Donut $1.50
Stawberry donuts $1.50
Chocolate sticks $1.75
Vanilla/chocolate creme donuts $1.60
Sprinkle stick donuts $1.65-2.00
Guava Malasada $1.10
Cinnamon snail $1.50
Butter Rolls $8.00
Mac Nut Cookies $6.00
Pies-Apple, coconut, French apple, French apricot, apricot peach, azuki $7.50
Chocolate chantilly cake $12.00
Chocolate dream cake $15.00
Chocolate dobash $11.50
Orange chantilly cake $12.00
Hot cross buns $1.75
Hot dogs $2.50
T Komoda Store and Bakery
3674 Baldwin Ave., Makawao
Open Mon-Tue 7-4pm, Thu-Fri 7-4pm, Sat 7-2pm.
Closed Wed and Sun