Sunday, September 29, 2002



Cold had role in
Foodland’s birth

Buffalo's winter brought "Sully" Sullivan
back to help open the first store

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

If not for a cold winter in Buffalo, N.Y., Maurice J. Sullivan would not have returned to Hawaii to help his future mother-in-law open Foodland, the state's first and largest supermarket chain.

Sullivan was stationed at Hickam Field during World War II, where he was in charge of its commissary and mess hall, said Jenai Sullivan Wall, his daughter and now Foodland's president and chief executive officer.

In his work, Sullivan met See Goo Lau, a woman who owned Lanikai Store in Kailua.

"She befriended him and introduced him to local farmers, and they became friends," Wall said. "After the war, she tried to get him to work at her store in Lanikai."

But "Sully," who moved to America from his native Ireland at 18 and shortly thereafter began his career in the food industry working for the A&P supermarket chain, wanted to return to the mainland.

"He said that it was winter, and within a week he turned around and came back to Hawaii," Wall said.

Foodland CEO Jenai Sullivan Wall is pictured in the Market City Foodland, the chain's first supermarket. The store opened its doors in 1948.

The rest is history. Sullivan persuaded Lau, known affectionately as "Momma Lau," to open a supermarket at a time when Hawaii consumers were eager to embrace the concept of a large, one-stop food and merchandise outlet.

The first opened in May 1948 at Kapiolani Boulevard and Harding Avenue -- at the Market City Shopping Center owned by family friend Hiram Fong.

The store was such a success, store managers had to close its doors in midday so they could restock the shelves.

From there the Foodland chain grew quickly as School Street, Aina Haina and Beretania Street locations joined the fold within a few years.

Today, the company owns 29 Foodlands and Sack 'n Saves. The latest Foodland opened this spring on the Big Island at the Parker Ranch Center in Waimea.

Jenai Sullivan Wall, daughter of Foodland co-founder Maurice Sullivan, is the company's chairman of the board.

In his personal life, Sully married Joanna Lau, "Momma" Lau's daughter and a key Foodland mover in the early days, and the Sullivans began a dynasty. Jenai Wall became president in 1995, chief executive officer in 1998 and chairman of the board in 2001. Maurice Sullivan died in 1998.

As successful and popular as it has been, Foodland has also been known for its community service programs.

The company's 14-year-old Shop for Better Education program has netted more than $6 million in computers and other educational supplies for Hawaii's secondary schools.

Wall, who developed Shop for Better Education, said the program was simply an extension of the humanitarian work started by her father.

"He had a soft heart," Wall said, noting that Sullivan served on the board of a number of charities. "He liked to help people."

Shop for Better Education and more recent programs like Give Aloha and Share a Holiday Feast are especially gratifying for the Foodland family because it gives its customers a way to join in giving back to their communities. "It's the customer involvement that makes a difference."

Wall said she also is proud that Foodland has remained successful as a kamaaina-owned establishment in the face of stiff competition from wholesale outlets and big-box retailers.

"Those companies, their primary interests are not in our community," she said. "I think it's real important for people to recognize that. Our goal is, we're going to be around here a long time."

Foodland Super Market Ltd.

Stores: 29 Foodland and Sack 'n Save locations on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island

Staff: 2,000 employees

Foodland Origin: Founded in May 1948 at Market City Shopping Center by Maurice J. Sullivan and See Goo Lau

Current CEO: Jenai Sullivan Wall, Maurice Sullivan's daughter. The 43-year-old Wall, who serves as chairman of the board, has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Wellesley College and an MBA in finance and marketing from Columbia University. She is married with two children.

Trendsetter: Foodland boasts 350,000 Maika'i Card members. The card, the first "frequent buyer" card program in the state, gives its members instant discounts on thousands of products and earns free travel and groceries over the long haul.

Community service: The company's Shop for Better Education program was created in 1988 and has contributed $6 million in computers, books and software to Hawaii schools. The Give Aloha program, started in 1999, allows customers each September to make a donation of up to $249 to their favorite participating nonprofit charity that is matched by Foodland. More than $2.7 million has been raised. The Share a Holiday Feast program allows customers to donate up to $15 to help purchase holiday meals for needy local families during November and December.


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