The Okemura family of Slim's Power Tools includes, from left to right in the front row, Jane and Iwao "Slim" Okemura; in the second row, Donna Okemura, Melinda Okemura, Arleen Okemura; in the back row, Mark Takenouchi, Rand Okemura, Scott Okemura, Todd Okemura; and, not pictured, Sean Okemura.

Long, strong ohana
ties build business

By Erika Engle

Third-generation family businessman Guy Kamitaki was looking forward to hearing a keynote speech today by seventh-generation family-businessman Doug Crane.

Crane is a manager of Crane & Co. one of the oldest family owned businesses in the United States.

Kamitaki and his family were among those honored today by the Family Business Center of Hawaii as owners and operators of one of the 2002 Family Businesses of the Year.

The Family Business Center of the University of Hawaii College of Business Administration presents three awards, based on the number of employees. Each winner received a plaque and a one-year membership to the Family Business Center of Hawaii.

Maui Varieties Ltd.

In the 250 or more employees category, the winner is Maui Varieties Ltd.

The Kamitaki and Mizoguchi families have run the business Guy's grandmother Shikano started in the 1940s as Kamitaki Dry Goods Store in Kahului, Maui.

In 1951, son Tadami Kamitaki and his sister Matsuko Mizoguchi bought a franchise for a Ben Franklin five-and-dime store on Maui. The five-and-dime concept has since evolved into Ben Franklin Crafts; the family now owns six stores on Maui, Oahu, the Big Island and near Osaka, Japan.

By the mid-1970s, grandsons Wayne Kamitaki, president and CEO, and Paul Mizoguchi, vice president, were running the show; in 1984 they opened the first ACE Hardware store in Hilo. Guy is the company treasurer and controller.

Maui Varieties also owns and operates 12 of Hawaii's 28 ACE Hardware locations. Three of those are combined with Ben Franklin stores, according to Guy Kamitaki.

The oldest family actively involved in the stores are "either my dad or my aunt, they're in their early 80s," Guy said.

House of Hong

The family's namesake restaurant, House of Hong, is perhaps the best known of its business ventures under the corporate name Enterprise Development Inc. It was honored in the 26-to-250 employees category.

In 1943, the Hong family hui -- brothers Raymond, Alfred and Jimmy, and sister Helen and her husband, Charley -- purchased Kapaakea Grill on Beretania Street. They renamed the Moiliili outdoor bar and grill Charley's Tavern, beginning a 59-year family tradition of making sure customers' hunger and thirst are sated. Expansion in the area included the establishment of Moiliili Chop Suey and the purchase of apartment buildings. While Kirin Restaurant Inc. and Camellia Yakiniku have replaced the Hong' eateries, the family holds the master lease on the property.

Retail sparked the family's fancy and in 1955 the Hongs opened a Lewers Street clothing and curio store named Leslie's, after their oldest son. The family changed Leslie's to Alii Market, a convenience store, around 1964 and within a year acquired more space to establish House of Hong. "It was actually the first elegant, upscale Chinese restaurant in Hawaii," said Leslie Hong, chairman and president.

"My father took the chefs to the Orient and brought back new dishes," he said. "They introduced Peking Duck to Honolulu."

Since the 1980s the Hongs purchased Chuck's Steakhouse in the Edgewater Hotel, resurrected the Charley's Tavern moniker for a bar in the Ohana Village Hotel, and opened the Lewers Street Loft and Lanai next door.

Today's awards are a bittersweet occasion for the Hong family, as its namesake restaurant and adjoining operations are part of the Lewers Street redevelopment project; also, there are no plans for third-generation Hongs to continue the business.

Slim's Power Tools

The youngest of the three family business recognized today, Slim's Power Tools is also the smallest, in the fewer than 25 employees category.

Iwao "Slim" Okemura, a seasoned hand tool and machinery salesman for Von Hamm Young and City Mill, opened up shop in 1972. Initially it offered its three-product line from a Mapunapuna warehouse shared with other companies, but outgrew the space in eight months.

The company moved to Kakoi Street, its home for the next 11 years, during which Okemura established a tool repair service for an increasing list of industrial clients; the move kept the business alive during the influx of big-box home improvement and hardware retailers. Slim's is now a warranty center for many products sold by competitors.

In 1983, Slim's moved to its present location on Republican Street and continued to expand its inventory.

It expanded externally as well, purchasing a building across the street for storage; expanding to Maui in 1991 and recently purchasing an adjacent property to accommodate planned growth.

Starting in 1973, the operation truly became a family business when Slim's son Scott, Slim's wife, Jane, their son Todd and her brother Mark Takenouchi join the company.

Jane is vice president, Scott is general manager, Mark is sales manager and Todd is repair supervisor, but as the family matured, more members were picked up by the family and its business.

Of Slim and Jane's nine grandchildren, three work at the store during school breaks.

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