Komoda Bakery Brings More Than a Century of Sweetness to Makawao
They arrive very early and brave the morning Makawao chill, wanting to make sure they get first crack at the fresh malasadas, creampuffs, long johns and other delectable handmade bakery products at the Komoda Store and Bakery.
Mariel Kirschen and James Gamez, both visitors consulting with Maui County’s transportation department, were among those in line waiting.
“We asked for the best place to get malasadas and we were told this is the place we had to go to.”
Kirschen showed up on a Wednesday only to find the store was closed on that day.
“I’m definitely here for the malasadas. It’s my second chance, and I didn’t want to miss it,” she said.
To tell the story of the Komoda Store and Bakery is in many ways to tell a tale of more than a century of family, work, ambition and erudition in Makawao. Of immigrants and achievement, of consistent and delicious products lovingly made and, an odd attachment to the midwest and its colleges.
The storefront takes you back in time; inside it’s a bit dim, unapologetically old-school, analog and venerable.
Clavin Shibuya, 78, and his wife Betty, whose maiden name was Komoda, are the owner-operators of the bakery.
“We are the anchor tenants of Makawao. We are the lone survivors of the mom and pop shops, the last. All the others are transplants,” Calvin said.
The business actually began in 1916 at a site close to what is now Polli’s Mexican Restaurant a block or two up Makawao Avenue.
The Shibuyas pride themselves on the quality of their product and knowing just how much to make on a daily basis to avoid waste.
The store sells approximately 400 creampuffs a day and about 200 malasadas, though quantities for both were higher before the pandemic.
The Shibuyas said the original store was a saimin and sandwich shop that made its own bread.
It later had an interaction as sort of a general store that served the paniolo population, according to Calvin.
It was like Ace Hardware without the bakery, which came in the 1920s. “We sold everything from horseshoes to chicken feed,” he said.
Back in the day, Calvin and Betty were just kids on Maui. She grew up in Makawao and he was raised at Alabama Camp in the Puʻunēnē Plantation.
Improbably enough, they met not in Kahului or Wailuku but in Chicago.
“I wanted to go to college in the midwest,” said Betty, who was studying to be a teacher at Indiana State University. “I wanted to experience the four seasons.”
For his part, Calvin said, “I wanted to go to a Big Ten school.” He was studying aeronautics at the University of Illinois “I wanted to be a pilot,” he said.
Apparently there was an organization that staged dances for Hawaiian students in the midwest far from home.
The first dances were at the YMCA but Calvin recalled, “When we got together in Chicago, I did not know her at all.”
The dance parties at the YMCA got a bit too rowdy so the students eventually had to rent a floor at a hotel to express their collective aloha.
The couple was married in 1966.
But as John Lennon once said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Calvin entered the Air Force and flew combat missions in Vietnam. “I’m one of the fortunates who made it back. I don’t talk much about it,” he said.
He still had dreams of being a commercial pilot, but one of Betty’s uncles, a mainstay at the bakery, had reached retirement age. Calvin stepped in and learned the ropes even earning an MBA to prepare himself for running a business.
“Even then, the place was iconic and I couldn’t let it close,” he said.
Let’s go back a few dozen years.
Takezo Komoda, Betty’s grandfather, was born in Japan. Like so many immigrants he came to work in the sugar mill, according to Betty. He found the conditions to be too hot and humid and made his way to Makawao where he began to do yard work for the Cooks, a wealthy family. His wife also worked for the family.
Ambitious and capable, he climbed the immigration ladder.
Betty’s uncle Ikuo Komoda was the chief baker and eventually wound up at a baking school in Minnesota, yet another unlikely Midwest state.
“That’s where he learned to make modern pastries and different kinds of baked goods. But he said he would never go back there, it was just too cold,” Betty remembered fondly.
Her uncle eventually bought the building.
Calvin was tutored by Ikuo and eventually learned the baking business. “I learned on the job. From being a pilot to baking, I really enjoyed running the bakery and seeing the business succeed,” Calvin said.
Over the years there have been upgrades to the refrigeration system and other infrastructure but little else has changed at this location since the early 1950s.
Like every other business on Maui, Komodas had to deal with the hardships of COVID-19.
Calvin said he closed the store for about six weeks.
“The worst part of the pandemic was not knowing what to expect. We shut down but I got antsy and we needed the revenue so we reopened with the help of a PPP ( the Paycheck Protection Program). It caused a lot of headaches in terms of getting ingredients. We had to be resourceful,” he said.
He noted the family was fortunate in that they own the building that the store is housed in.
Finding dependable, trustworthy and ethical employees has also been a challenge.
Normally the store has 13 employees but is now down to 11. “Finding employees is not the same as in the past,” Calvin said.
Given pandemic restrictions the store had to do away with Calvin’s beloved hot dog machine and the coffee bar.
Hot dogs aside and the homemade buns not-withstanding, the store was typically busy one Thursday morning.
Susan Moikeha was at the counter. “My mother is visiting and wanted cream puffs. They are the best bakery on the island,” she said.
And, as an institution in the community, people come for all reasons, happy and sad.
“We’re here for every celebratory event, every occasion,” said Princess Kinoris, though on this day she and a friend were picking up pastries for a funeral.
Calvin has had some health issues but still works and contributes, and dispenses wisdom and humor.
But he and Betty are not getting younger.
The couple have three daughters and a succession plan in mind.
“We had a strategic meeting and we want to carry on,” said Calvin.
Regardless, one thing is sure: Five days a week they will line up early, visitors and locals alike; the doors will open promptly at 7 a.m.; the smell of fresh baked goods wafting in the air–a living piece of Maui history, sometimes hidden, unfolding before them.