Hula Moon shines brightBy Stephanie Kendrick
Assistant features editor
ROCKPORT, Mass., might seem a long way from Kailua, Oahu, but connections between the two often remind Sally and Kevin Takekawa of just how small the world really is.
The couple met in Hawaii and married seven years ago. About three years ago, they moved to Rockport, where Sally was born, and opened Hula Moon, a Hawaii store.
That first year, Sally called Brickwood Galuteria at KINE Radio on their anniversary to request a song. She told him they weren't actually in Hawaii to hear it, but they were homesick and would feel better just knowing he was playing it for them.
Galuteria did one better. He put Sally on the air and they talked about Rockport and the store. Kevin's dentist and assorted friends called to tell them they heard the show. Months later, a family from Kailua visiting New England came into the store and told the Takekawas they'd heard the show and wanted to stop by.
And in Hawaii, where they still spend about three months of the year, the Takekawas run into people who've been in the shop.
They were standing in a Big Way store recently when a local couple came up to them and said they'd bought their first Keali'i Reichel CD at Hula Moon. The chicken skin part is the couple had just told that story to a guy selling Hawaiian music from a table in front of the store.
"We've had so many of those it's-a-small-world moments," said Sally.
The couple began thinking about the move when they went to Rockport for a family reunion five or six years ago. They had a friend who had married a man from Zimbabwe and opened an African shop as a way to spend time in two communities. "We laughed when we first heard about it, then we started thinking, we could do this," said Sally.
For two years they researched the idea of doing a Hawaii store in Rockport, the small town featured in last year's Tom Selleck film "Love Letter." In 1996 they packed up a bunch of foods, music and other products and had a party there for friends and family to test the idea. It was a huge hit. "We figured there was enough interest to give it a shot," said Sally.
(Despite his years in Hawaii, by the way, Selleck never came into the shop. However a nanny did bring in the three youngest children of Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Selleck's co-star, for shave ice.)
Hula Moon opened in May 1997 as a gift shop. It took the Takekawas another year to get approval for a shave-ice machine. The historic structures of Rockport are a big draw for tourists and the regulatory process is slow as planners try to preserve the ambience of the town.
In May 1998, approval in hand, they added the shave-ice machine and a full cafe. The menu features char siu, which Kevin roasts himself; teri chicken; saimin; Hawaiian plate and Spam musubi, among other local grinds. Kevin's homemade manapua was popular, but he found the labor outweighed the revenue potential and stopped making it.
Even with customers who've never been to Hawaii, the food is a hit. "The secret is, leave out samples," said Sally. Once they taste, they're hooked.
Sally used to take the train to Boston's Chinatown with two empty overnight bags to gather supplies, but they have since found an Asian market a 5-minute drive away where they can get fresh noodles and other supplies.
"Homesick people, when they come in, it's going to feel the same to them. And there are lots of them, that's one thing we really hadn't counted on," said Sally.
The gift shop portion of the store stocks mainly products made in Hawaii. They have some items from Fiji and Samoa, but they are not reordering them.
"We have this horror of shops that say they're Hawaiian and then they're chock full of imports," said Sally. The profit margin on made-in-Hawaii goods may be lower than items from China and Indonesia, said Sally, but she thinks it's worth it. "There's always a market for quality."
Clothes and music sell well. At first, they bought a lot of stuff in glass jars, like jams and sauces, but that had to stop. Shipping costs were a killer and the glass was sometimes damaged, said Sally.
They are always looking for merchandise, particularly work by native Hawaiians, but the buying process has gotten easier. "We know what will sell now," said Kevin.
The shop also has an Aloha Corner stocked with information about Hawaii. Resources include local phone books and periodicals, guides from the HVCB and brochures from Hawaii companies. And they help customers find Hawaii florists.
"We're not just selling a product. We feel like we're ambassadors in a way," said Sally.
A Hawaiian word of the day is posted outside the shop. Customers are greeted with "aloha" and leave with "a hui hou." And when a plate lunch special runs out, it's pau. "They know the word pau now," said Sally.
A misconception among many who live in Hawaii is that people outside the state cannot appreciate our food and culture, said Kevin, but they have found the opposite to be true.
A young man who works for them is so addicted to Spam musubi that they gave him Spam, rice, nori and a mold for Christmas so he could make his own while they are out of town.
Shave ice is also a huge hit, even in 20-degree weather. "We sell it right up to when we close in December," said Sally.
And Kevin says, "I'm like the shave-ice Nazi," he said, ordering kids to hurry up and pick their flavors.
"He's not rude, he's just local style. At first we didn't know how that was going to go over, but they love it," said Sally.
"People in general love Hawaii," said Sally.
Kevin adds, "They're not interested in fairy tales, they want to know the real culture and history."
Kevin, born and raised in Kailua, has become known as the mayor of Rockport, talking story with everybody wherever he goes.
"People walk by and they say, 'Yea right, a Hawaiian shop,' and all I have to do is open my mouth and they know I'm not from around Boston," he said.
While he's excited about the success of the shop, life on the East Coast has its drawbacks. "Kevin got a real taste of winter this year," said Sally.
They stayed in Massachusetts a month longer than usual so they could be there for a family wedding and because Kevin thought he wanted to see real winter, a mistake he won't be making again. "I learned how to layer," he said.
Back on Oahu for the remainder of the winter, a recent afternoon found them making up for lost time (and tans), by heading to the beach for a business meeting. "We get some of our best ideas at the beach," said Sally.
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