Spam musubi invention makes waves in California

LIHUE — Tom Kowach has made thousands of musubi since he married Kauai girl Ashley Oshiro Kowach in 2004.

“We love musubi,” said Tom, creator of a nine-piece musubi maker. “I’m surprised more people don’t eat it (on the Mainland). There’s so many different varieties.”

Ashley, born and raised in Lihue, started making musubi for the local parent teacher conference bake sale in California.

“It’s a pain because it’s so hard for one person to make — several dozen — using a one, two piece mold,” Tom said.

To solve the solution, Ashley said, “I’m going to have a bunch of people each make two cans and then it’ll make it easier.”

Being a retired engineer, however, Tom thought there should be an easier solution. He came up with the idea for a musubi maker capable of producing nine musubi in 10 minutes.

“I drew up some designs and I had another friend whose son did metalworking,” he said. “He formed the design for me. It worked. I put on these removal dividers — we were all worried the rice was going to be sticky — but it worked out great.”

The following month he patented the Ko Craft Mo’ Bettah musubi maker.

“The principle behind it is if you pull out one divider, then the sticky rice is more sticky on the three sides than it is on the one side,” he said. “When you pull out two, it starts loosening it up, and it’s still more sticky on the two sides. They actually come out pretty easy.”

After receiving fanfare from friends and family, Tom received offers to sell his invention to a couple local establishments.

“So far, it’s been going pretty good,” he said.

Tom, Ashley and their two children return to Kauai every year. Each time, they pack their favorite snack.

“We put it in a pocket,” he said. “It’s so convenient.”

Spam musubi was created on Kauai in the early 1980s by Barbara Funamura.

Its original form was triangular and the tasty treat was sold at the former Joni-Hana restaurant in Kukui Grove.

In a previous interview with The Garden island, Barbara’s husband, Dan Funamura, said the Spam musubi and makizushi were made using a box, before morphing into its now familiar shape.

The box was a contribution from one of the workers, Matsuno Matsumoto-Kaohi, who brought it in to work one day, he said.

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