Story by Shannon Wianecki
Photo by Jack Wolford
At 4:30 most mornings, the bakers at T. Komoda Store & Bakery fortify themselves with a breakfast of rice and strong-smelling natto (fermented soybeans) and get to work. Behind the shuttered doors at the corner of Makawao and Baldwin avenues, they’re busy making Maui’s best-loved cream puffs. Before the sun spills over Haleakalä, a crowd gathers outside the weathered building. The locals know the drill: arrive early or miss out. By noon, the baker’s racks are empty.
Little has changed since Takezo Komoda opened the general store in 1916. Two of his eight children still work there, including 80-year-old Ikuo Komoda, the son responsible for the pastries that put his father’s store on the map. Ikuo attended baking school after serving in WWII and returned with recipes. He modestly claims they’re nothing special. “Same thing as other bakeries,” he says.
His fans beg to differ, claiming the legendary cream puffs retain their light, fluffy quality even overnight. Then there are the flaky butter rolls, individually slathered before being baked and bagged by the dozen. The Chantilly cakes and fruit pies also have a devout following, as do the stick doughnuts rolled in macadamia nuts.
Everything at Komoda’s is handmade. Along the bake shop’s back wall, an oven of epic proportion turns out eight hundred pastry shells at once. That oven, a mixer and a cream depositor are the kitchen’s lone mechanized tools. Even the invoices are still written out by hand.
In 1990 Calvin Shibuya, a retired Air Force pilot married to Takezo Komoda’s granddaughter, sought to modernize operations. He hired an accountant, updating the previous payroll system, which was as basic as it gets: His mother-in-law, Kiyoko Komoda, simply walked down to the bank and returned with a wad of cash under her arm, which she used to pay everyone. Shibuya also instituted six weeks of paid vacation, to make sure that aging family members got a muchneeded break. As for anything else? Tradition trumped innovation. But as the T. Komoda Store & Bakery nears the century mark, the former aeronautical engineer is no longer pushing to modernize. “Why,” he shrugs, “change something that works?”