Recipe for success
Keith Yamamoto left a stateBy Rod Ohira
job to find the way the cookie
When Keith Yamamoto started baking cookies, he always made enough to share with family and friends.
"I was baking 50-60 jars on the side to give to uncles and aunties or to bring to the office," said the 41-year-old Yamamoto, a program administrator for the state Office of Youth Services.
The cookies were so good, he was soon overwhelmed by requests.
"About three years ago, it got to the point where I just couldn't do it anymore," Yamamoto said. "I made 800 jars one Christmas. I realized then I either had to stop doing it or turn it into a formal business."
Yamamoto decided to market his signature mochiko shortbread cookie. He and his partner, Rudy Loftis, opened a small bake shop in Kalihi last November to sell "Keith's Cookies," and business has been booming.
Yamamoto spent five years perfecting his secret recipes.
"I like eating cookies, but personally, I don't like soft cookies, so I made cookies I myself would enjoy eating," he said. "It was all trial and error, and there were plenty of errors."
Mochiko, or Japanese sweet rice flour, gives his cookies a unique texture and taste, said Yamamoto, who has expanded the line to include lilikoi, chocolate, coconut and mocha flavors.
"There are tons of cookie companies out there, so I wanted ours to be a high-quality product because my name's on it," he added. "Our cookies are handmade with quality ingredients, like butter instead of margarine and only pure extracts.
"It costs a little more, but I think people are willing to pay extra for something if it tastes good."
"Keith's Cookies" are sold in 16-ounce bags and 22-ounce jars, priced at $8 and $11, respectively, at the bake shop located at 2130 N. King St., behind Kalihi Super Meats on Gulick Avenue. The bake shop is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
"We're a small, family-oriented business," said Yamamoto, whose parents -- retirees James and June Yamamoto -- help Loftis run the bake shop.
Yamamoto, a Pearl City High and Northern Colorado University graduate who earned his master's degree in public administration at the University of Hawaii, says the cookie business attracts a special type of customer that makes the job enjoyable.
"People who buy cookies are pleasant," he said. "If you're having a bad day, you're not going to be buying cookies. What we see are people who are usually buying something to share with others. I enjoy that."
Loftis, former general manager of the downtown Woolworth's store, and Yamamoto were previously partners in catering and sportswear business ventures.
"Keith's Cookies" are also available at Chit Chat Sundries and Gifts, Duty Free Shoppers Hawaii, The Islands' Best, Local to the Max, Liberty House Ala Moana, the Navy Exchange, Pat's Island Delights, Petals and Beans, and Strawberry Connection.