Monday, July 5, 1999



By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
The second and third generations of the Ishimoto family
have continued the family business. Above, Leslie Ishimoto
holds her 5-year-old son, Evan, who's already familiar with
the business.

Hard work built
family business

Parents and kids alike worked
long hours to make Kewalo Pickle
Products a success

By Rod Ohira


In the early morning darkness, Tsumoru and Kay Ishimoto would gather their five children and head off to work.

Their Kewalo Pickle Products Inc. was a struggling business in the mid-'60s and required the helping hands of every family member.

For the Ishimoto children -- now Michele Vandenburg, Vivian Lee of Maui, Diane Nazarro, Loretta Monroy and Gary Ishimoto -- the day began at 4 a.m., even on school days.

"We hated it," Monroy said. "We'd come here at 4 and mother would feed us breakfast. Then we'd do whatever had to be done -- peel cabbage, wash vegetables or put labels on bottles -- until it was time to go to school."

The children attended Catholic parochial schools, and also helped out after school. Sometimes, the family didn't return home until 11 p.m.

"I remember we used to fall asleep on the hundred-pound sugar bags," said Vandenburg, the eldest child. "But we learned discipline and the value of perseverance and hard work."

Their parents retired after building the 34-year-old family business into one of Hawaii's leading producers of pickled oriental products.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Loretta Monroy, left, and her
sister-in-law have fun while working .

The company grosses over $650,000 in sales annually, Monroy said.

More importantly, the Ishimoto children have continued the tradition of tight family bonds, passing on their work values to their own children -- eight of whom, ranging in age from 5 to 20, are already familiar with the Iwilei-based processing plant.

"I've been coming here ever since baby time," 10-year-old Kainoa Ishimoto said. "I cut cucumbers, sweep or put stickers on (products). Putting stickers on is the hardest."

Family members go to Tsumoru and Kay Ishimoto's Palolo home nightly, to pick up their children and eat.

"Everybody's put in their time," Vandenburg said. "Kewalo has been good to all of us.

"Our core values remain the same. We know what hard work is and what you have to do to endure."

Monroy is now president of the company, which employs 12 non-family members. About 20 family members are available to help when needed, she added.

Yoshitoyo Horiuchi, an uncle, directs operations at the plant, which is located behind the old OR&L rail station across from Aala Park. Gary's wife, Leslie, also works at the plant.

"This family business is the foundation of our family because it ties us together," Vandenburg said. "It's what we grew up with.

"It taught us to respect our family and to respect our co-workers."

The business started after Tsumoru Ishimoto, a native of Hawaii, retired as a master sergeant after 20 years in the Army with the Military Intelligence Service.

"We were always traveling and all of us were born in Japan," Monroy said. "I think none of us could speak English when we came here."

To Ishimoto, home was Hawaii. After working at a bean-sprout factory and delivering snacks, he decided to go into business for himself.

"He found that after all those years in Japan, there was no good tsukemono (salted oriental vegetables) in Hawaii," Monroy said.

The Ishimotos bought Kewalo Pickle Products but the previous owner left them no recipes.

"They developed their own recipes through trial and error," Monroy said of her parents. "My mother experimented and came up with all the recipes."

Kewalo now produces 16 different products, including kim chee and takuan. The primary vegetables used are mustard cabbage, cucumbers, head cabbage, won bok, turnips and eggplant.

"We depend on Mother Nature, which can fluctuate the price of our raw materials," Vandenburg said.

The workday depends on what is being produced.

"If won bok comes in, we could cut 2,000 pounds of it," Monroy said. "On some days we do takuan, other days kim chee. We have to be flexible because everything depends on Mother Nature."

Takuan normally takes four days to prepare while salted vegetables is a one-day process.

Since all of their products have a shelf life, it's important to gauge what is or isn't moving.

In addition to her full-time duties at Kewalo Pickle, Monroy works nights at Liberty House to help pay for her daughter's college education at Notre Dame.

Vandenburg, meanwhile, has a full-time job with Queen's Healthcare Management.

But both sisters devote time to the company their parents built.

"There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this business," Vandenburg said.

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