Sunday, November 2, 2003

John Tanga, Marc Tabayoyon and Janis Tanga of Tango Co., above, work on their old Hawaiian family recipes at Shige's Saimin Stand in Wahiawa.

Start-up is
all in the family

Tanga Co. has turned a diverse
ethnic heritage and love of local
food into a growing business

Tanya and Marc Tabayoyon have already put in a full day at work, but Wednesday evening they rush over to Wahiawa to tackle their evening and weekend job helping sister Janis Tanga build a family business.


The Tabayoyon and Tanga families love local-style food so much that they decided to turn their passion into a start-up business, Tanga Co., which markets specialty mochi mixes and seasoned salts so others can experience the flavors of Hawaii.

Many nights and weekends find the family gathered round the counters in cousin Ross Shingeoka's commercial kitchen mixing, packaging and labeling products for sale over the Internet and at Island trade shows and craft fairs. The products also are retailed at select stores throughout Oahu.

The poi, sweet potato and yam ball mixes, and seasoned salts are secret family recipes that have been tweaked for mass production and are flavored not only with spices indigenous to the Islands, but with the many cultures of the family. Like many long-time Island dwellers, the Tabayoyons and Tangas boast an ancestry ranging from Filipino to Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Spanish, East Indian, Russian and Samoan.

"Our local foods are influenced by the many different cultures that make Hawaii 'The Melting Pot' and 'The Land of Aloha.' What we call 'local food' are tasty dishes created with the unique blend of ingredients from the many ethnic backgrounds of Hawaii," said Janis Tanga, owner of Tanga Co. "The products my family markets show our love of these foods."

Borrowing $4,000, Tanga founded the company in June 2001 along with her husband John and her sister and brother Tanya and Marc Tabayoyon. Her mother, Virgie Tabayoyon, and children 17-year-old Ashley, 7-year-old Johnathan and 5-year-old Jaelyn also are involved with the business. They help market the product at craft fairs, festivals and trade shows throughout the Island. Even cousin Ross Shingeoka, owner of Shige's Saimin Stand in Wahiawa, helps by lending his commercial kitchen for after-hours production.

"Our local foods are influenced by the many different cultures that make Hawaii 'The Melting Pot' and 'The Land of Aloha.' " --Janie Tanga, center, with packages, with, from left, Ross Shigeoka, Karley Shigeoka, John Tanga, Tanya Tabayoyon and Marc Tabayoyon at Shige's Saimin Stand in Wahiawa.

The family markets two main products: 4J's Mochi Puff Mix and 4J's Flavored Sea Salt. The later comes in three flavors: garlic, smokey and Hawaiian chili pepper. The products, which retail for between $6 and $8, can be found in several Island stores including Tropical Farms, Island Keepsakes, Wabi-Sabi, Pat's Island Delights, Shige's Saimin Stand and a few drug stores. They also can be purchased for a discounted price at craft fairs, festivals and trade shows on Oahu and the Mainland.

The company debuted with the Mochi Puff Mix, which makes a fried ball that is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Originally the product was designed to use poi, but because it was very popular with tourists and Mainland customers who do not have easy access to the Hawaiian staple. So Marc Tabayoyon, a professional cook by trade, tweaked the recipe so it also could be made with candied yams or sweet potatoes.

Later, Tanga Co. began marketing flavored sea salts, which can be rubbed on meat, poultry or fish before grilling or broiling to intensify their natural flavors. The sea salts also can be used to flavor vegetables, stir-fry and pasta dishes or heighten the flavors of soups and stews.

The family, especially Marc Tabayoyon, is experimenting with new recipes due to be released next year.

Last year, the family sold 2,124 individual sea salts and 2,059 individual poi mochi mixes, excluding gift packs. And already this year, has sold 2,277 individual sea salts, with holiday sales still to be determined. The family has filled Internet orders from western states, as well as places as far away as Florida, Massachusetts, Alaska and Canada. They've also shipped the product to customers on Maui, Kauai and Hilo.

John Tanga works on variations to old Hawaiian family recipes at Shige's Saimin Stand in Wahiawa.

"The product is so popular that for a while there, from week to week, we couldn't keep her product in stock," said Phillip Kawailani, operations manager of Tropical Farms, which markets many of the Islands' cottage industry products.

The products caught on fast among Island cooks and Mainland tourists looking to try local flavors, Tanga said, with gross sales growing 48 percent from $11,400 to nearly $17,000 in the first year. Third year projections for the business show a 17 percent rise, she said, but she expects Christmas sales will drive that number higher.

"Our bottom line is still a little negative, but we expect to turn around a real profit next year," Tanga said. "This is a start-up business so we're really pleased with the growth."

Like many start-up businesses, Tanga Co. has had to reinvest most revenues back into the business to take care of costs like insurance permits, licenses and equipment. Right now, building the business is a labor of love for the family. No one draws a salary and everyone, with the exception of Janis Tanga, works other full-time jobs.

But what family members lack in money, they say they've gained in togetherness. Working side by side late nights and weekends to turn products that they believe in into a profitable business has brought the family closer, said Tanya Tabayoyon, the eldest sibling by 14 years.

"We weren't really close growing up," Tabayoyon said. "With so many years difference in our ages, I was the disciplinarian. But all of that changed when Janis had her first child. Now, we're all trying to build something for that next generation."

The baby of the Tabayoyon family, Marc, said working side by side with his two eldest sisters to build their business has made the family realize just how important all of its members are.

"It takes everyone's strength to make this come together," he said.


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