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Suisan president after fire: ‘We are resilient’

Brittany Kiko, employee at The Isles Cafe next to the Suisan Fish Market in Hilo, said she was shocked when she heard one of Suisan’s buildings caught fire Thursday night.

“I thought it was crazy,” she said.

Hawaii County emergency response officials battled the blaze from 10:32 p.m. Thursday until 3:30 a.m. Friday, according to a press release.

The Tribune-Herald arrived at 11 p.m. Thursday at the scene, where fire trucks, police cars and ambulances lined the road across from Hilo International Airport off Kamehameha Avenue. Drivers continually stopped to check out the fire, as it engulfed the 106-year-old food distribution company’s business and management offices.

Battalion Chief Jerry Lum arrived at the scene Friday morning. He stood in front of the building as smoke continued to billow from the dilapidated roof.

He said crews were out all night and officials were at the scene Friday working to determine the blaze’s cause. The fire department issued a press release Friday stating nobody was injured and the investigation was ongoing.

A call to the fire department about whether there’s suspicion of foul play was not returned by press time.

Barbara Hastings, media liaison for Suisan Company Ltd., issued a press release stating the company and its insurance carrier had not determined the extent of damage or the cause.

She also said the impacted building, the main office structure there, encompassed 16,000 square feet and less than a third, 5,000 square feet, was for overflow storage — dry and frozen.

The fresh seafood operation was not damaged, she said, and the company’s local, state and offshore fresh food supply should be unaffected.

Suisan representatives said the impact of the fire will not disrupt the company’s operations, all telecommunications are currently operational and Hilo calls are being transferred to the company’s Kona office.

Glenn Hashimoto, Suisan’s current president, made the following statement about the incident in a press release Friday:

“No one was injured, so we are thankful. We are resilient and will work things out.”

Hashimoto replaced Rex Matsuno as president Jan. 1.

Matsuno, who became the company’s president in 1967, is credited with the company’s 1950s expansion into frozen foods, produce and other products, as well as the post-tsunami rebuilding of the fish market on Hilo Bay.

The Suisan Fish Market was destroyed twice, by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960. The company also experienced other setbacks, including having its property seized by the military during World War II and its principal, Kamezo Matsuno, being sent to an interment camp.

The Hilo-based company has deep roots in the community, and Hashimoto, who was at the scene Friday morning, said he “couldn’t say enough” about the efforts of local emergency response officials.

“Some of them have been out here all night…” he said.

In a statement, he also thanked the Big Island community for its support during this difficult time.

“We must add that we are moved by the outpouring of support and kind words that have come to us from our customers, vendors, the business community, including competitors. Mahalo to our Hawaii Island community,” he said.

Suisan currently employs 175 people on the Big Island and serves local hotels, supermarkets, schools and restaurants, as well as its other global customers.

Toby Taniguchi, vice president of KTA, said he first heard about the fire from a Nixle alert sent to his phone by police.

“I didn’t know what was going on until this morning when I checked the news,” he said. “It’s devastating; it’s unfortunate. But first and foremost, I’m happy that nobody was hurt.”

Taniguchi said his heart goes out to Matsuno, Hashimoto and to all of Suisan’s associates.

“We will do anything on our side to help them. Anything we can do, we’re willing and able,” he said.

Issa Hilweh, owner of local restaurants Hilo Town Tavern and Kanpai is a Suisan customer and said he was in California when he heard the news. He also wishes the best for the company.

“I hope that the damage was not severe and they can get up and operational quickly,” he said.

The fire department issued a second press release about 5:50 p.m. Friday stating all fires were extinguished and the investigation is ongoing.

Suisan has expanded several times since it first opened as Sui San Kabushiki Kaisha in 1907. The company saw its first growth spurt in 1950, when its fish exports increased to neighboring islands and the mainland. Suisan expanded again in 1970, when it opened its westside division. Its current annual gross sales total $81 million.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune- herald.com.

 

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