Prominent Kauai businessman Charles Kawakami dies

LIHUE — Those who knew Charles Kawakami say he was a consummate businessman who had a deep connection to the Garden Isle.

“He definitely was a person of the community,” said Randy Francisco, small business coordinator for Creative Industries and former president of the Chamber of Commerce. “As busy as he was, he was always about giving back because he never forgot where he come (from) or whom he served and stores and the company himself.”

He gave people on the island a chance to succeed, added Ron Kouchi, senate president.

“He gave so many opportunities to young people. Many had their first job working at one of his stores,” Kouchi said. “They were all given the chance to save money, go to college and better themselves.”

He also supported and hired people with disabilities, Kouchi said.

“He gave them a chance at independence,” he said.

Charles Kawakami, father of Derek Kawakami, newly elected Kauai County Councilmember, died Saturday at the age of 75.

During his life, Kawakami served as president and CEO of Big Save before it was sold to Times Supermarket in 2011.

The Kawakami family opened Big Save on Kauai in 1926. When it first opened, Big Save had locations on the Westside — in Waimea and Hanapepe — before expanding to locations across the island.

The family also established Kauai’s MFM, Inc., the parent company of local businesses like Menehune Food Mart, the Kukui Nut Tree Inn Restaurant, Kauai Kitchens and others.

Kawakami served as president of the company, which started in 1958. It was purchased last year by Aloha Petroleum

He also served as a regent for the University of Hawaii system and served as chairman of the Hawaii Food Industry Association.

“Charles was a pillar of our community. His keen business sense combined with his connection to Kauai’s people fulfilled an important need on the island,” said Mayor Bernard Carvalho. “I will always remember Charles as someone who made time to give back to the community despite his hectic schedule. He was also a wonderful husband, father and grandfather and my condolences go out to his ‘ohana.”

Francisco said Kawakami played a influential role in working with various non-profit organizations on the island.

“I think that’s one of the pluses of someone like him — who’s put in a lot of time into his profession as a businessman — to be able to also give up himself and his time to volunteer on community boards on Kauai,” Francisco said. “He brings the same business thinking into the conversation that a board needs, especially in this day and age when nonprofits are challenged with not only revenue, but also operations to support programs. That was his forte for the past few years since he retired while still being involved with the community.”

One example of his charitable donations was the Richard Kawakami Memorial Golf Tournament. Funds raised from the tournament went to various non-profit organizations on the island, like Kauai Hospice.

“It was one of the biggest tournaments on Kauai. It touched so many different organizations,” Kouchi said.

But Kouchi will also remember Kawakami as his long-time neighbor.

“He had a dalmatian, and my sons would go to his house to see it,” Kouchi said. “They were introduced to firefighters, and found it fun to visit a dalmatian in real life.”

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Education reporter, David McCracken, contributed to this story.

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