KALAHEO — Mabel Hashisaka credits her customers, family and friends with Kauai Kookie’s success.
“They’ve made me who I am,” she said.
Hashisaka, who founded the company nearly 50 years ago, said she was inspired to start the business because she wanted to give Kauai visitors something to send home.
“There’s a tradition in Japan, called omiyage, where travelers get something from their travels to give to someone,” she said. “I figured Kauai needed something for visitors to bring back.”
Traditionally, omiyage is food produced in the place the traveler visited.
So, Hashisaka decided to blend the Hawaiian and Japanese culture together by baking cookies made with ingredients and flavors found on Kauai.
Kauai Kookie, which has beginnings in a kitchen in Waimea, has grown to a full-scale bakery. There are two locations on Kauai: Kauai Kookie in Hanapepe and Kauai Kookie Bakery & Kitchen in Kalaheo.
“We moved about five times before going to Hanapepe,” Hashisaka said.
Kauai Kookie bakes over 50,000 cookies a day and sells over 40 varieties of cookies, from chocolate chip macadamia and macadamia shortbread to passion fruit guava and haupia coconut Kauai Rooster cookies.
Nowadays, Hashisaka’s daughters, Ruth and Ann, run the business.
But her legacy won’t soon be forgotten.
On Thursday, Hashisaka will be honored with the Small Business Association Award for Lifetime Achievement, for the state of Hawaii.
The awards will be given out during a ceremony at the Kauai Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours at Lava Lava Beach Club, from 5 to 7 p.m.
A state event will follow in May.
“I don’t deserve it,” Hashisaka said.
Born in Lihue, Hashisaka learned from an early age the benefits of hard work and education.
“My father came to Kauai as a Japanese immigrant in 1905, and he was impressed with the American dream,” she said. “His passion was education, so he worked very hard to give all six of us education.”
Her father educated his children and younger brother, who moved to Kauai from Japan. He believed so much in education that he moved his family from the Westside to Lihue, just so Hashisaka’s brother could go to Kauai High School.
“They didn’t have a high school in the Westside at the time,” she said.
His motto was: You can start with nothing and may end with nothing, but the important thing is that you try, Hashisaka said.
“We have the same mindset — you can try anything,” she said.
Before dabbling in business, Hashisaka graduated from the University of Hawaii with a degree in psychology. She went on to get a master’s degree in education, and has been a teacher on the Big Island and Kauai.
Hashisaka, who turned 88 this month, has advice for young adults who want to start their own business.
“Everybody has to have integrity,” she said.