Owner of famed
isle market dies at 72

Walter Tamashiro made his family's
shop famous for fresh fish

By Rod Antone

Walter Tamashiro, the man who made his family's business, Tamashiro Market, synonymous with fresh fish and poke, died last week. He was 72.

Walter Tamashiro in 1975.

Family members said Tamashiro was hospitalized July 21 because of a gastrointestinal infection. Until then, however, Tamashiro had been where he always was: hard at work.

Tamashiro died Thursday in Queen's Medical Center.

"He said he never would retire, and he didn't," said Tamashiro's eldest son, Cyrus. "He could do with sometimes three or four hours of sleep, have a half-hour nap and then be ready to go.

"Work was in his blood. He loved to work."

Walter Tamashiro was born in Hilo and moved to Oahu in 1947, a year after a tsunami killed 96 people and destroyed his father's grocery store on the Big Island. But when Tamashiro Market reopened in Kalihi, it was still what it originally was in Hilo: a mom-and-pop store that dealt mostly in produce.

Then in 1954, Tamashiro took over the business and decided he would add fresh seafood to the selection, the first sales of which included a crate of opelo and half an aku.

"He got them from a wholesaler and thought he could do way better if he had a whole aku," Cyrus said. "But if you wanted to buy straight from the auction, you had to buy a lot."

For Tamashiro, Cyrus said, the answer was simple: "My dad decided that he would sell a lot."

The beginning was slow, but Cyrus said by the late '60s and early '70s, Tamashiro Market's raw-fish sales began to take off. The secret, according to Cyrus, was just to listen to customers and what they want.

"He wanted the freshest seafood possible," Cyrus said. "He began to look for fresh sources of Kona crab, Samoan crab -- and he was one of the first to fly in live Dungeness crab and one of the earliest retailers to go into poke in a big way."

When Tamashiro died, he was still the chairman and chief executive officer of Tamashiro Market Inc. But his family wants people to know that the hard worker always had a sense of aloha besides his business sense.

"He was a positive individual," Cyrus said. "He never let things get him down and was very kind to everyone. He was really very good at human relations. He valued employees, loved his customers.

"He's the type of person who could walk into a room full of strangers and leave as friends with all of them," he said.

Tamashiro is survived by wife Louise Y.; sons Cyrus, Guy and Sean; mother Iris Y.; sisters Ellen Konishi and Loraine Tamashiro; and five grandchildren.

Services are set for 4 p.m. Sunday at Hosoi Garden Mortuary. Call after 3 p.m. Aloha attire. No flowers.

E-mail to City Desk


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