11 Hawai‘i General Stores You Must Visit
Hole-in-the-wall general stores dishing up their own eats— even if it’s just one ‘ono item—are a beloved part of Island life. Here are a few of Hawai‘i’s best.
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Open Since 1946
Kaya’s is perhaps the best-stocked general store we’ve come across in terms of breadth of offerings, a legacy of serving the Windward Side for 69 years. But, like all convenience stores, Kaya’s is also a study in adapting to change. In the past decade, as supermarkets opened nearby, the daughter of founder William Hideo Kaya has led a gradual transition to Kaya’s becoming a food-first destination.
A veteran of the storied 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Kaya came back from World War II to a new house built for him by brother Robert. But it came with a store. “It’s not what my father wanted to do,” says daughter Beverly Hashimoto. “He wanted to be an architect. But he never complained. I give him a lot of respect for that.”
Kaya adapted. He dedicated himself to stocking a store so that residents of the Windward Side would never have to go to town. He cured his own meat and ground his own hamburger; he sold animal feed, tools and auto parts; he repaired lawnmowers until 11 at night.
“Dad was so proud of what he did,” Hashimoto says. “He had a showcase of vegetables, so every morning he came in at 5 a.m. and took everything out, trimmed off any yellow leaves, and so forth, every single day.” You could multiply that level of care to every aspect of the business. Since metal tended to rust in the salt air, one of Hashimoto’s childhood chores was sandpapering the rust off the canned goods.
But working with Kaya wasn’t easy, and Hashimoto and her two brothers sought careers elsewhere. After 12 years on the Mainland, Hashimoto came home at the urging of her husband, a local boy. Change was in the air, but only on her father’s terms. “We had to do everything his way.” That included doing inventory on paper and markup from a list kept in her father’s pocket. “Every single item had a different markup!”
Then Hashimoto got a computer to help with the bookkeeping. “As soon as I got that, my dad retired. He didn’t want to deal with computers.” Soon her husband left his sales job to help out. “He’s the vision man, really good at looking at things, how we can expand.”
He also comes in at 4 a.m. and makes the musubi: “We average about 100 on weekdays, 125 to 140 on weekends,” says Hashimoto. “Different kinds: plain furikake, secret daikon, bombucha.” Actually, Hashimoto began as the musubi chef, which “turned into making little bentos, which turned into plate lunches …” After 10 years, she let a father-and-son team rent space in the back of the store for a kitchen.
Today, the Two Bald Guys, as Leonard Nombris and his son, James Martin, are known, have made Kaya’s a food destination with their fresh ‘ahi plates, Thai steak salads and custom-made omelets. So has the Thai food stand and the coffee kiosk; then there’s the fresh coconut stand, which offers smoothies—and, someday soon, maybe more. After all these years, Kaya’s has found its next niche—as a rare island of land zoned as commercial, it has become the community center again, as Kaya once envisioned, although considerably more
colorful and diverse.
53-534 Kamehameha Highway, Hau‘ula, 293-9095
Neighbor Island Favorites
Hirano store If you’re visiting Hirano Store, 15 miles south of Hilo, don’t miss the ‘ōhelo berry jam and the chili. The first is from owner Eric Inouye’s mom’s recipe, using berries from the surrounding Volcano area. The beginnings of the chili were less homespun. “When I first started making food, I said, OK, I’ll sell chili. I bought canned chili, put it in the warmer. It didn’t sell well,” Inouye says. “I said, what if I add this, add that? The taste was getting better but it still had that canned taste. I said, Why not make it from scratch already? So I did.” Inouye keeps the exact recipe secret, but the result is good enough to have been declared the best by a visiting Alan Wong. Chili bowl $4.50, no rice $5.00.
18-2455 Volcano Highway, Mountain View, (808) 968-6522
Ishihara Market Few make the trek to the dusty paniolo town of Waimea without a stop at the 81-year-old, family-owned-and-operated Ishihara Market. It’s got all the usual general store trappings, but the real attraction is the seafood deli, which was added in 1987 by Ray Ishihara, CEO, and his siblings, Grace and Guy. Today, the Ishihara’s, with Guy’s wife, Shawn, make sure this third-generation business continues to thrive. “It’s all about the ‘ahi poke,” Ray says. “There are many choices, but the ‘ahi poke complements them all.” A close second in renown to Ishihara Market’s poke is its bento boxes. Oh, and its plate lunches. And did we mention its marinated meats ready for grilling?
9890 Kahakai Road, Waimea, (808) 338-1751
Ha‘ikū is a web of interconnected country roads, and for decades Fukushima’s has felt like its heart. People come to the tiny store to run into friends and talk story, to pick up chow fun, beer and cigarettes, but almost nobody leaves without a Fukushima hot dog. They’re little things, just $1.30 each, but there’s something magical in the combination of the soft, warm bun, the steamed dog, and the pickly-mayonnaisey sauce that puts them into the stratosphere of tastiness. Buy two or three with all the fixings, and eat them while sitting on the wooden bench out front. Upcountry Maui doesn’t get much better than this.
815 Ha‘ikū Road, Ha‘ikū, (808) 575-2762