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Big Island Delights expands business to Oahu

<p>Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p><strong>Above: </strong>Big Island Delights owner Jeff Takamine, left, stands with his grandchildren, from left, Lia Ho, 7, Joshua Ho, 10, and Mathew Icari, 10, and his daughter Christin Takamine, right, in their bakery. <strong>Below:</strong> Chocolate-dipped fortune cookies are available at Big Island Delights.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>An array of sweets and snacks are available from Big Island Delights.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Kulea Bondallian boxes some Peanut Butter Crunch Delight cookies at the Big Island Delights bakery.</p>


Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

Expanding businesses often start in a big market before moving to capture new business in surrounding areas. Not often do small businesses here grow to the point that they are eyeing new opportunities on Oahu.

But that’s what Big Island Delights is doing. Following a successful 16-year run as first a manufacturer, wholesaler then retailer in Hilo, the snack maker is making its first foray into the Oahu market.

The Hilo confectioner opened a 600-square-foot store at Ward Centre in Honolulu on Nov. 1, introducing its variety of chocolate-dipped cookies and snacks to a wider audience.

Family-owned Big Island Delights has been baking cookies and confections in Hilo since 1997. Six years ago, they moved from wholesale to retail purveyors and continue to operate their retail store in Hilo at 762 Kanoelehua Ave.

Owners Jeff and Carla Takamine operate their business like their family, and the two are closely intertwined. Values such as generosity, respect and honesty are key to the company’s growth and success.

On a recent day, Carla was in Honolulu helping son Dean, the new Ward Centre store’s manager, launch the new venture. Daughter Cheryl was managing the Hilo retail store; daughter Christin was in the Makalika Street bakery with her father Jeff along with several employees busily packing the most recent batch of fresh chocolate-dipped cookies.

Only Craig, the oldest son, who owns Takamine Construction, and son Aaron, who works for First Hawaiian Bank, aren’t full-time employees of the family business.

Top-notch raw ingredients are used to make Big Island Delights, Takamine said, including fresh butter and eggs, pure Tahitian vanilla extract, fine chocolate and 100 percent Hawaiian-grown roasted macadamia nuts.

“We have really worked hard to perfect our products to a point where we feel that it’s the best that we can give to our customers,” Jeff Takamine said. “And especially because of Hawaii being so small, and everyone knows each other, it’s really important to be able to stand proudly behind your product.” Big Island Delights also partners with community groups on the Big Island and Maui to help them raise funds selling Big Island Delights’ products. “We do a lot of fundraisers.”

The company employs about 10 people year-round with another half dozen employees helping out around the holidays.

When deciding to expand their retail reach, the Takamines looked first at Kona.

“No sense another one in Hilo,” he said. But they couldn’t find a location in Kona at a cost that would match the traffic they needed. “All the traffic is on Oahu,” Jeff said. “If we do twice as well there as we do here, I’ll be retired,” he said with a grin.

The potential is certainly there.

Most people may not know that Guam is one of the Big Island Delight’s best customers, he said. Twice a year, he fills a 40-foot container with chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies, Kona coffee, honey and macadamia nuts that goes to Guam.

“Guam has been very good to us,” he said. “I just got off the phone with California, now they want a container. I had to tell them I couldn’t do it. We don’t have the capacity.”

Takamine talks of doubling the size of their 6-year-old manufacturing and production facility on Makalika Street to about 6,000 square feet to accommodate the demand for their products, including gift baskets, gift boxes, Macadamia Nut Snowball Cookies and Party Mix Delight, a Chex-like product that’s the Hilo’s store’s most popular item.

The Hilo store’s collection of confections is now being proudly displayed at Ward Centre with close to 30 different types of cookies, different brittles and chocolate “barks,” including the popular Kona Coffee bark, chocolate-covered mango and chocolate-dipped fortune cookies, to name a few. The Takamines leased the Ward Center space for just six months and will be looking for a more permanent location in Waikiki.

Takamine was a buyer for SureSave Markets 16 years ago when they ventured into entrepreneurship. After three months, he left Sure Save when “it became apparent this was getting bigger than we thought.

“We started as just a mom-and-pop,” wholesaling frozen pies and a few other products. Eventually, they recognized the value of establishing a retail component to their business. Oahu is just the next step. Takamine envisions the future with three stores on Oahu.

He credits his wife, Carla, for their success. “My wife knows everybody, takes care of everybody. We got some really good employees, too, family and non-family,” he said. “And we owe thanks to a lot of people who have helped us along the way.”

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