Today, the Ishihara family is closing Ishihara Market in Waimea. And for that, we and many others are sorry. This family, this store, has for so long, try eight decades, been a staple of the Westside, it’s hard to imagine life with them. The Ishiharas made their community better, not just by selling groceries and what is generally considered the best poke on Kauai, but by creating a family that extended well beyond doors of their well-known and beloved store.
Now, before we continue, we want to be clear that this store at 9894 Kaumualii Highway isn’t going away. It will still be Ishihara Market, but now under the capable ownership of Kalama Beach Corp., which plans to reopen on Aug. 7 after some remodeling and bringing in some new merchandise. We’re confident that KBC will continue the fine tradition of the Ishihara family, and we are confident the community will continue to shop there.
But the Ishiharas are special. You can’t replace them. Not in heart and soul, anyway. Not in spirit.
Selling, ending eight decades of service, was a difficult decision that the family anguished over.
“With inventory getting harder to purchase at competitive prices, we felt it was time to let go. Our main goal was to find a company with the same values that we have which is to serve the community and take care of its employees. Kalama Beach Corporation fit this mold perfectly,” said Guy Ishihara on behalf of the Ishihara family in a previous press release.
A little history is in order so you can appreciate this family’s dedication.
Ishihara Market was founded in 1934 by Shoko Ishihara who came to Hawaii in the 1900s to work as a field laborer for Kekaha Sugar. He married a picture bride and had two children, Masako and Charles.
His ventures in business first began when he sold meat from the back of a Model T truck to residents on the Westside of Kauai. In 1934, he opened a meat market in Kekaha with his son Charles at the corner of the Kekaha Sugar Mill on Kekaha Road. During World War II, the store moved to Waimea to the building which is now the Makaweli Poi Mill until 1953 when it moved to its present location.
Ishihara Market continued to grow over the years and Charles’ children — third generation Ray, Grace and Guy (and wife Shawn) — each later joined the family business after graduating from the University of Hawaii. In 1992, Hurricane Iniki ravaged Kauai and damaged the market, forcing the family to construct a new market.
The new Ishihara Market opened in 1996 with a much larger team of 25. Today, Ishihara Market employs 50 employees and is revered for its poke selection, ready-made foods, family atmosphere and friendly service.
The relationship between Ishihara Market and the community truly was one of a kind. You couldn’t duplicate it if you tried.
One reason for the Ishiharas’ success was their commitment to customers. The bottom line wasn’t what mattered most. No, what really counted was taking care of and meeting the needs of moms and dads and keiki and kupuna who walked through their doors. What counted was taking care of their employees who made everyone feel welcome.
“The Ishihara family would like to thank the community, the vendors who supplied us, all the friends and family who supported us and, last but not least, our valued employees who have dedicated their lives to make Ishihara Market what it is today,” Guy Ishihara said. “We will always think of our employees as family and as we “hand off the baton,” we would like to say thank you very much. We love you and mahalo to all.”
We thank the Ishihara family for their commitment and contributions to the Westside. And we welcome Kalama Beach Corporation, which has pledged to carry on the fine work of the Ishiharas. In fact, all of the 40 employees who wished to continue working at Ishihara Market were rehired by Kalama Beach Corp., and a former assistant manager has been promoted to store manager.
Kalama Beach Corporation is one of several affiliated retail companies owned by the Sullivan family. Founded in 1970, the locally-owned company operates Malama Market and other neighborhood grocery stores on the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu.
“Ishihara Market has been an important part of life in Waimea, and we are committed to continuing its rich history of serving the community and taking care of its employees and customers,” said Vernon Ikebe, vice president of sales and operations for Kalama Beach Corporation. “We applaud the Ishihara family for all they have done for this community since opening their store more than 80 years ago, and we are honored that they have selected us to continue their great legacy.”