Tanioka's Seafood and Catering in Waipahu celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. The family business is run by, from left, Gail Bunda (office manager), Joann Abilla (seafood manager), Justin Tanioka (retail manager and general manager, Mel's son), Esther Ringor (retail manager, Mel's sister), Brandon Tanioka (catering manager, Mel's nephew), Jasmine Tanioka (human resources manager and general manager, Mel's daughter), Lynn Tanioka (vice president, Mel's wife) and Mel Tanioka (president).

Plenty poke and much, much more

Tanioka's Seafood and Catering
is still reeling in customers
after 25 years in business

Family Tree logo

Tanioka's Seafood
and Catering

Location: 94-903 Farrington Highway in Waipahu.

Open for business: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Call: 671-3779 or 677-9253.

ON the busiest day of the week, Saturday, the line of customers stretches out the door at Tanioka's Seafood and Catering. But on any day, you'll find a crowd of loyal customers crowded around the counter buying poke, sushi, bentos, plate lunches and a wide variety of specialty foods.

Tucked away in the heart of Waipahu along Farrington Highway, every possible inch of space in the ground-floor market is occupied. Photos of some of Tanioka's famous customers ranging from sports figures to entertainers are interspersed between a dizzying array of local seeds, gummy bears and mochi crunch which line the shelves along one wall.

At first glance, chaos seems just a moment away. But remarkably, the store runs like a well-oiled machine. In one room, a group of employees are preparing fresh fish that will be turned into sashimi, salmon and ahi patties, or one of the more than 40 varieties of poke for which the store is known. In another room, experienced hands are rolling and shaping mouth-watering sushi. Out front, orders are being taken and picked up.

In deciding what foods and products to offer, the business' founder, Mel Tanioka, says he always lets his customers be his guide.

"It's what the customers have asked for," he said.

While sushi is the biggest seller at Tanioka's, the store is perhaps best known for its poke.

"That's where we started, and its kind of made us what we are today," Mel said.

This year, Tanioka's celebrated its 25th anniversary. The operation that began with Mel and Lynn Tanioka in 1978 now employs 99 people and is managed by a second generation of Taniokas, Mel and Lynn's daughter, Jasmine, who is general manager for human resources; and their son, Justin, general manager for the retail operation.

When the store first opened in 1978, it was a far different story. Lynn had just given birth to Justin while Mel, with the help of his mom, was up at 4 a.m. every day to buy fish and prepare it, work in the store and handle the paperwork.

At its heart, Tanioka's has remained a family affair even though it has evolved from a small seafood market to a large and very successful business. Both Lynn and Mel remain actively involved but say they now have more time to pursue other interests, do volunteer work and take vacations.

Some of the people in the seafood department at Tanioka's are, from left, Mario Jovellanos, Emmanuel Basuel, Danilo Baluyot, Baron Miho (seafood manager; he's holding a prime piece of sashimi), Danilo Vila, Romel Basuel and Jerry Quebral.

At last count, there were eight family members working for the company, including Mel's sister, Esther; Lynn's mother, Thelma; and nephews and nieces.

There are also some employees, who have worked for the company so long they are considered part of the family, such as Seafood Manager Joann Abilla, who arrived six months after the store opened, Information Technology Manager Donnovan Suemoto and Office Manager Gail Bunda.

The Taniokas estimate they've sold more than a million pounds of their famous limu poke in the past 25 years.

From family events over the years such as weddings and graduations to school fund-raisers and sports tailgate parties, the Taniokas have been part of the fabric of life on Oahu.

In the 1990s, they expanded the retail operation to include catering, which now accounts for a growing part of the business. Other products added include fresh cookies and local style snacks, and gift baskets.

Dedicated churchgoers, the Taniokas are actively involved in many community events and programs. Mel sponsors a golf tournament each year to raise funds that are passed on to youth programs and community groups.

While Justin and Jasmin could have chosen any career to pursue, both decided to become part of the family business.

"My brother and I grew up here. We feel we have the best parents in the world. They're always there for us," Jasmin said.

The family has also been recognized for both its business successes and its community efforts. It received the "Pride in Waipahu award, and the U.S. Small Business Administration's Oahu Small Business of the Year awards

Last week, Tanioka's was recognized once again in receiving the 2003 Family Business of the Year award from the University of Hawaii's Family Business program.


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