Saturday, January 26, 2002

Teruya family era
ends with sale of Times

The family started the supermarket
chain in 1949 and grew it
to 13 stores on Oahu

California firm to buy Times

By Rick Daysog

With little capital and no experience running a grocery, Wallace and Albert Teruya founded Times Super Market Ltd. in 1949 on a 6,000-square-foot parcel near the corner of McCully and King Streets.

It was virtually unheard of that two nisei brothers would challenge the plantation-era companies that dominated Hawaii's business community back then. It didn't help that Hawaii was mired in a statewide dock strike that brought all cargo shipments to a standstill.

"It was a highly risky venture," said Wayne Teruya, Times' president and son of company co-founder Wallace Teruya. "Many said they didn't know what they were doing but they got their experience from the ground up."

Yesterday, the Teruya family announced that they plan to sell their company to a California grocery store operator, PAQ Inc., for an undisclosed price, in a deal set to close in February.

Stockton, Calif.-based PAQ -- which operates four Food4Less outlets in Northern California -- said it plans to continue the operations under the Times brand, keep nearly all of the company's workers and uphold its emphasis on customer service and local products.

But the deal will end the 53-year association between the Teruya family and the business, now the state's third largest supermarket chain with 13 locations on Oahu and more than 900 employees.

Wayne Teruya, who was 2 when his father and uncle founded Times, said many of the company's 40 shareholders have reached retirement age and wanted to exit the business.

Like other local retailers, Times has struggled in recent years to compete with big box retailers like Costco and Sam's Club, he added.

"Although it wasn't easy to make the decision to sell, the board of directors decided that this was the right time to move on to other opportunities," said Wayne Teruya. "We felt it was essential that we sell the supermarket business to someone who recognized the importance of investing in our local economy and who would continue the tradition we established of providing quality local products at a good value."

In many ways, the company's humble roots go a long way in explaining the success of the Times grocery chain.

It also underscores the post-World War II experience for many second- and third-generation Asian Americans. Besides Times, companies like Servco Pacific Inc., Finance Factors Ltd. and Star Markets Ltd. got their start in this era.

The Teruya brothers -- whose father emigrated from Okinawa to work in a Big Island plantation field at the turn of the century -- moved to Oahu in their early teens to work in various restaurants as dishwashers, waiters and cooks.

In the early 1940s, they scraped their savings together to start the Times Grill at the foot of Kapiolani Boulevard.

Their business careers were halted by World War II. Both Wallace and younger brother Herman entered the Army and served in Europe as members of the decorated 100th Battalion. While Wallace returned to Hawaii, Herman died on an Italian battlefield.

It was Herman who first dreamed of starting a grocery store chain.

Wallace and Albert sold the Times Grill but would keep the name when they decided to fulfill their younger brother's dreams by opening their first grocery store in the McCully area.

That store, which was expanded several times over the years, had a view of Waikiki, which was then undeveloped swamp.

In the 1950s, Times opened its second store in Kahala in honor of Herman Teruya. That store was considered the most modern food center in Hawaii.

The company opened its 12th store in the 1970s but would only open one more store during the next decades.

"Every year had different challenges," said Wayne Teruya. "It wasn't as competitive as today."

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