Family commitment to high quality

TED’s BAKERY: Ted, mom and Glenn Nakamura

Two brothers who graduated from Kahuku High in the mid-70s have seen their Sunset Beach bakery grow dramatically because of a commitment to high quality products, such as their best-selling chilled chocolate haupia [Hawaiian coconut custard] and cream pie.

Glenn and Ted Nakamura told BYU-Hawaii business students during the Entrepreneurship Lecture Series on Feb. 3, 2004, that they have seen Ted’s Bakery, which started in 1987, grow from selling a few pies a week to a peak of over 14,000 during a recent Thanksgiving week.

Glenn Nakamura, the older brother who graduated from Kahuku in 1974, told how his parents initially opened a fruit and vegetable stand on their five-acre farm in Sunset Beach in 1956, but soon discovered “it was a lot easier to run a grocery business than it was to farm.”

Glenn stressed the term “easy” is relative, however. “Running a business is not one of the easiest things to do in the world. Mom and dad literally worked seven days a week. For the entire year, I can remember, they only had one day off,” he said, noting they subsequently leased out the store for 20 years in 1965.

The family took the business back in 1985. “We noticed, especially during the surf season, that the Love’s Bakery stuff was selling out. I felt we would make more money selling hot, fresh baked products,” said Glenn, who encouraged brother Ted to come in with them in 1987.

Ted, who graduated from Kahuku in 1976 and went on to become a baker, started out making pastries in the familiar location on Kamehameha Highway near Sunset Beach. “Our production of pies started in 1990,” he said. “The first Thanksgiving we sold 400 pies, and the bakery slowly kept growing.”

Ted also recalled that their chocolate haupia pie was delicious serendipity. “Actually it was an accident,” he admitted. “I put the two together, and it took off. People liked it.”

Glenn, the more pragmatic of the two, said Ted is the dreamer, always pushing for something newer or bigger. He recalled one time Ted urged them to buy a 240-quarter mixer at auction, “but I thought we would never get that big.” They have since purchased the large mixer.

The bakery’s serious breakthrough occurred in 1997 with a story in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “One lady in Honolulu called with an order for 18 pies. We thought, wow, 18,” Glenn said. After he faxed out a flyer, more orders poured in. “In the first week after that we sold 246 pies,” Ted said.

“Suddenly, you see the potential,” Glenn continued. “We worked all night and all morning, and delivered pies the next morning. It kept growing. In two months we were doing roughly 1,300 a week.”

“As we grew, we found we had to get a bigger space and a refrigerator truck,” he said, adding that the brothers also went to a convention that year that encouraged them to “bring the product to the customer.”

Subsequent local, national and international publicity — and continuing customer satisfaction — has kept awareness of Ted’s Bakery very high, to the point where Glenn said they don’t do any advertising.

“You must always keep the quality consistent,” Ted stressed. “We made a lot of mistakes, even to the present day; but we’ve found with consistent quality we always sell our products. You have to keep a consistent product to keep them selling, no matter if you’re making bread, pies or houses.”

For example, Ted said many bakers use “one plus two” — one part butter to two parts margarine. “When you compare, you’ll find that your costs come out about the same, whether you use inferior quality products, or the best. The labor’s going to be the same. The rent’s going to be the same. When you use the highest quality stuff, you’ll find that people can’t stop eating it.”

“Very few places across the nation follow that principle,” Glenn said. “After years of training, Brother Ted knows what he’s doing. He wants to use the best quality so we’ll have customers coming back to us year after year. Never compromise.”

But Glenn added that running the business is still hard work. Their mother, Eva, who is now 82, “still gets up at 5:30 every morning to open. That’s the job she wants. This is a family operation. If we’re a man short, we’ll go wash dishes,” he said. “If somebody calls in sick, we fill in,” Ted added.

“Where do we go from here?” Glenn asked. “There are a lot of problems duplicating yourself,” he said, adding that for now they intend to follow their recipe for success: hard work and high-quality products. Remember, we’re just a couple of guys who graduated from Kahuku High School.”

— Story and photo by Mike Foley, February 2004

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