- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) - Around five years ago, Pukalani Superette owners and brothers, Aric and Myles Nakashima, saw a trend with people wanting to buy healthier groceries and organic produce.

So they dedicated sales space for healthy food products and visited health food shows in Oregon and California, just to see what was selling and made an investment in educating themselves about the products, reported The Maui News on Sunday (http://bit.ly/1QDnQuv).

Coming from a store that sells rice, potato macaroni salad and laulau, health food was not their forte.

But they learned. Now they have an aisle with shelves on both sides dedicated to healthy, natural and organic foods “from grains to chips,” they said.

“Organic produce sells well,” said younger brother Myles. “It has really taken off for us.”

Organic food sales haven’t come near to taking over their core business, however. Pukalani Superette still sells hot dogs, kim chee and Spam, and it has variety of hot prepared foods such as chili chicken and roast pork.

Yet, the health food experience and gaining insight into a new consumer trend came with “thinking ahead,” a trait by the Nakashimas that has contributed to the longevity of the locally owned business, the brothers said.

The store, nicknamed “Puk Sup” (Pook Soop) by regulars, marks its 60th anniversary this year. Anniversary specials and discounts run through Oct. 31.

The current store was built in 1955, and this year’s anniversary celebrates that milestone, the opening of what was called “Pukalani Superette.” But the family business goes back decades before that when the Nakashima brothers’ maternal grandfather and grandmother, Takeo and Kome Tanizaki, opened Tanizaki Store in Wailuku. The Tanizakis emigrated from Japan to work on plantations in Hawaii.

Over time, many family-run, mom-and-pop businesses have succumbed to competition of big-box stores and national retailers. Still, Pukalani Superette thrives.

“It (business) is always changing. You always got to be on top of it. You always going to be thinking ahead. Like any business, you got to think ahead,” said 62-year-old Aric.

The elder brother added that one must think of a business’s customer base and how that changes and whether “you can handle it.” And they have.

Arnold Hiura, a Big Island author who has visited many mom-and-pop businesses in Hawaii for his book about local food, said that Pukalani Superette “has had to do a lot of things right to stay ahead of the curve and remain such a beloved fixture to the community that it serves.”

“It’s an incredible achievement for any rural, local grocer/food mart to survive in today’s economy, which is so dominated by large corporate chains and big-box distributors,” he wrote in an email.

In doing research for his book, “Kau Kau, Cuisine & Culture in the Hawaiian Islands,” which looks at the history and heritage of food in Hawaii, Hiura visited the Upcountry store and “was thoroughly impressed.”

“Pukalani (Superette) has managed to retain its friendly, small-town feel and multigenerational roots while meeting contemporary trends,” he said.

Hiura said the store takes the fast-food, grab-and-go food concepts “to new heights,” and food was not “limited to the usual convenience store menu of stale hot dogs and Twinkies.”

“Lots of ono local dishes to choose from, and I thought they were very, very smart to offer plain rice in a variety of different sized containers. It’s a subtle thing, but it reflects their local knowledge that rice is the basis of a meal, and it allows the customer to mix and match their own purchases — from a quick and delicious one-person lunch (no need to under-eat or over-eat) or even feed a whole family of four, six or whatever.”

A challenge for local family-owned businesses is “to offer good quality products while staying price-competitive with the big guys,” he said. “Also they must try to stay ahead of consumer trends such as farm-to-table, buying local, eating healthy, organic when feasible, etc.”

The Nakashima brothers also attribute their longevity to all the good employees, customer loyalty, convenience and location of the store, giving back to the community, as well as “luck.”

They said the longtime workers become family and also see the business as their own. Barbara Silva has been at the store for 50 years, and there are others who have been there for 40 years, the family said.

Some customers patronize the store every day.

Asked what the customers buy, the brothers said, “all kind stuff” — from vegetables to hot prepared foods for children.

The supermarket also is able to thrive because of its foot traffic.

“I don’t think the public is aware of how many people come through our store every day,” Myles said. “We have a lot of traffic. But I cannot give specific numbers.”

The brothers said the store is also a convenient stop because it is “in the community” at the corner of Makawao Avenue and Old Haleakala Highway.

(As their longtime radio jingle notes: “Selection, convenience and so much more … Pukalani Superette, your easy-does-it store.”)

Customers can pull up right to the storefront and get back on the highway quicker than driving to Foodland down the street and having to navigate the Pukalani Terrace Center parking lot, the brothers said.

Myles added that the store always tries to please customers.

“I think it is also keeping a tab on what sells, what people want. And bringing it in and selling it at a good price. Knowing what to sell. Good product mix is what people look for, that’s why they come into the store,” said the 59-year-old younger brother.

He added that what helps the business and helps them keep their groceries at a “good price” is that they own the market and the land.

“We don’t pay rent on our property,” he said. “It’s a huge part of the equation for a lot of other stores. I don’t know what store on Maui doesn’t pay rent.”

Aric added that the store does not have a large profit margin, which helps keep prices low.

A recent ad with specials running through Tuesday showed a gallon of POG at Pukalani Superette selling for two for $7.

Larger grocery stores such as Foodland advertised POG for sale at two for $8 and at Safeway a gallon of POG was selling for $3.99. However, local wholesaler and retailer Island Grocery Depot was selling a gallon of POG for $3.49, 1 cent cheaper per gallon than Pukalani Superette.

Also, to keep grocery prices and costs down, the store recently installed LED lights, which consume less energy, and will soon install a photovoltaic system to help offset utility costs.

“Always trying to think of ways to cut expenses,” Myles said. “Whatever technology there is, we try to use it.”

“For us, it’s a family business. We’re not just employees. We want to be there for a long time,” he said.

And it appears the family business will be around for a while. Aric’s 27-year-old son, Jayson, is working at the store. Myles’ eldest child, Michelle, who is in high school, has also indicated an interest in the business.

Aric said the children taking an interest “in a way is a relief.”

“Basically when you think about continuing the business, as the way it is, it’s family owned and operated,” he said.

The brothers’ mother, Sumiko Tanizaki Nakashima, used to make sushi for the store and worked at the family business until 1990, when she retired. The brothers’ late father, Moriaki, was also a fixture at the store in his later years, although his career was with Kahului Railroad.

The store was originally Tanizaki Store, located in Wailuku. But after a fire destroyed the Wailuku store, a new Tanizaki Store was built in Pukalani in 1927, adjacent to the current building. In 1955, the current store was built and the name changed to Pukalani Superette.

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Information from: The Maui News, http://www.mauinews.com

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