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Isle expats in California fete Yamaguchi, students


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POSTED: Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Hawaii Chamber of Commerce of Northern California will honor chef and restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi with its 2009 Kulia i ka Nu'u Award at its annual Five Star Aloha Gala on June 4.

The name of the award means to strive for the summit, and Yamaguchi, Hawaii's first James Beard Award winner, was chosen for leadership that has inspired the Aloha State and its expats on the mainland, according to the chamber's Web site.

Yamaguchi opened his first restaurant, called 385 North, in Los Angeles in 1984, but moved to Hawaii in 1988 and opened the first Roy's, of which there are now 35.

Nalo Farms owner Dean Okimoto, purveyor of locally grown produce to Hawaii's top restaurants, will dish up the keynote address.

"We always say that coming from the small island state of Hawaii, you should never be intimidated or discouraged from competing on the world level," said Eric Tao, a Hilo-raised real estate developer in San Francisco.

Coming from Hawaii is "a benefit because you have such a community base" and the aloha spirit, "which you should always use as a foundation for being successful."

"The ultimate testament is ... look who's become president," Tao said.

The annual gala is a fundraiser for the HCCNC scholarship program, and two scholarships will be presented to Bay Area-bound Hawaii students.

This year's recipients are Ka'ohulani Rawlins-Crivello of Molokai - graduating tonight from Kamehameha Schools - and Matthew Akio Chee, a Maryknoll grad who is now a junior studying economics and finance at Santa Clara University.

Rawlins-Crivello will study civil engineering at the University of San Francisco.

More than two dozen Hawaii business and community leaders will attend the $125-per-person event.

Economy rocks business

Honolulu-based natural stone distributor Bella Pietra will close its Hilo store Friday due to economic conditions.

"We're consolidating our inventory to the Kona store," said Layla Dedrick, chief executive officer.

The Kona and Honolulu locations will stay open, Dedrick said.

One of the three Hilo employees will transfer to Honolulu, another will stay in Hilo to serve as a sales representative and the third will be looking for work, she said.

Companywide, Bella Pietra employs 28 people and has sales reps on Maui, Molokai and Kauai.

Aside from the Hilo store closing, the company is fine and is not for sale, Dedrick said.

The company's natural stone products for flooring, countertops, gardens and landscaping include granite, marble and travertine. It also carries products such as river rock, benches and steppingstones.

Customers range from consumers who "want to come in and spend $15 on a bag of river rock" to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, where it recently completed the installation of "hundreds of thousands of square feet of stone," she said.

Established in 2001 as Natural Stone LLC, the company initially did business as Natural Stone Design Center, then re-branded to Bella Pietra in 2003.


Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).