POIPU — Before the first customer walks through the doors of Kukuiula Market, the kitchen area is filled with the smell of a hearty breakfast: fried eggs, Spam, rice, Portuguese sausage.
Store manager Terry Kuribayashi fills four bento boxes with local favorites and prepares meals for some of her employees before the work day begins.
As customers begin to pour in, many of them walk to the back left corner of the store to Anake’s Juice Bar. Ecco Pellin and Megan Ray cut bananas and strawberries and other fruits and begin to take orders.
By the store’s entrance, Hoku Potts of Makai Sushi carefully preps seaweed, fresh fish and sauces for the day’s hand-rolled sushi rolls and bowls.
Kukuiula Market in Poipu isn’t only a grocery store. It’s an umbrella for several local businesses — with many of the owners growing up within walking distance of the store and calling it their second home.
“I’ve been coming here all my life, so it’s pretty cool coming in here since a little kid and being a part of the store and being able to run a business,” said Matthew Oliver, owner of Makai Sushi. “One of my best friends runs Da Crack, my brother’s out there in the front and I got some of my good friends running CrossFit.”
In total, there are 10 businesses on the property including a coffee stand, shave ice stand and a jiu jitsu class.
Kukuiula Market has come a long way since its humble beginnings when store owner Hajime Kuribayashi opened shop across Kukuiula Small Boat Harbor in 1962.
Back then, the former plantation truck driver sold knives and had tailors sew shorts for plantation workers.
Ten years later, Hajime and his wife Jane purchased the property and opened Kukuiula Store.
It wasn’t until 2011 when the store started to evolve into its current form.
“With more competition, we decided to innovate the store a little bit more — even though it is a local ma and pa store — but not forget where we came from because this is where we are,” said Terry, who began working there in 1998, making Spam musubi with her husband, Paul.
After Terry opened the juice bar in 2011, the store owners began to lease space to local business owners.
“Our whole thing is trying to help out the younger generation to have businesses for themselves because it’s hard in Hawaii, especially in Kauai,” Terry said.
She emphasized the importance of keeping the local flair alive and well.
“My husband and I decided because there’s only so many ma and pa stores left (on Kauai), we want to keep the culture going,” she said. “We want to stay here as long as we can, so we decided to have different entities.”
That culture is personified in the food, the local business owners and the welcoming attitude of everyone who’s a part of the store, Terry said.
“It’s real local-style, real family-oriented, which you cannot find anymore,” Terry said.
Daniel Hurtado, who owns the Mexican-style food stand, Da Crack, located next to the store, said he’s been fortunate to be given the opportunity to open up on the south side.
“This store means a lot to me. Da Crack has taken its own shape and form and it’s grown much further than I anticipated. It’s a good place to be,” Hurtado said. “Being able to be a part of something in Poipu nowadays is really hard, so I’m grateful to Uncle Paul and Aunty Terry for giving me the opportunity to lease the place for an affordable rate.”
For Thomas Oliver, owner of LocoCoco (a shave ice stand outside the store), having a business close to where he grew up means coming full circle.
“Everyone likes to gather at the South Shore,” he said. “It’s right here near my brother, and the family I grew up with here at Kukuiula Store.”
Potts said the unique atmosphere of working with family and friends is a local-style of living that is hard to find on the island.
“You want to support all the local people,” he said. “I just like to be with everybody here. It’s good fun, good environment, good atmosphere.”
Moving forward, Terry said Kukuiula Market may be carrying more organic food. But right now, she said she’ll continue to run a business that works for and with the community.
“Everybody’s family here,” she said. “I want to keep it as much local as possible.”