ROBERT TAIRA / 1923-2003
sweet bread legacy
Robert Taira built his business from a three-stool coffee shop in Hilo to one of the largest retail bakeries in Southern California.
And his wholesale operation has turned King's Hawaiian Bakery sweet bread into the top-selling sweet bread in the country.
Taira, founder of King's Bakery, died of cancer Thursday in Torrance, Calif. He was 79.
"Robert was extremely forward-thinking," said Shelby Weeda, president of King's Hawaiian Bakery. "With a dream and a loaf of bread, he went to the mainland and built his bakery."
Born in Hilo Nov. 5, 1923, Taira grew up in Kohala on the Big Island.
After serving as an interpreter in the U.S. Army for the occupying forces in Japan, Taira foresaw a demand for Western bakery products in Japan after World War II.
So he attended the Chicago Institute of Baking, graduating in 1949.
But with the start of the Korean War, Taira abandoned his plans to open a bakery in Japan and opened up his first coffee shop in Hilo. He then opened a larger coffee shop and bakery on King Street in Honolulu, and later opened several others, all featuring the sweet round loaves.
In 1977, Taira opened a wholesale bakery, King's Hawaiian Bakery, in Torrance.
He opened a retail bakery and restaurant in Torrance 12 years ago and a second last year. In 1993, he closed his Hawaii bakery and coffee shops.
The company employs more than 300 people and is building a third restaurant.
In the late 1980s, Taira handed the reigns to son Mark, now chief executive officer, while he became chairman of the board. He also served as vice chairman of City Bank.
Taira is also survived by wife Tsuneko; sons Curtis and Vaughn; daughters Laurene and Stella and 11 grandchildren.