Story by Paul Wood
Photo by Jack Wolford
Tasaka Guri Guri is so simple it’s pure genius—one location, one family, a secret recipe and just two flavors: strawberry and pineapple. You can get two scoops in a paper cup with a flat wooden spoon for a dollar ten. Just this has kept the Tasaka family of Kahului, Maui, thriving for nearly a hundred years.
“People ask why only two flavors,” says Henry Tasaka, age 76. “I tell them, ‘We’re not smart enough to make more.’” He grins. It’s a classic piece of nisei drollery. The ice cream shop around the corner, with its Rubik’s cube of choices, is empty today. But the front door of Tasaka Guri Guri—located in a back corner of the Maui Mall next to a pet store—hardly stops swinging as customers stream in and out. Everybody who passes greets Henry. “Oh, Uncle. How you?” Hand slaps.
“My grandfather came from Japan. He was skilled in Japanese confectionery, manju, mochi. Then my father came over when he was a teenager. Those two together started making the guri guri.” That was ninety-five years ago. Or so. No one in the family knows or remembers much about the grandfather. But his original recipe for this sweet treat—a kind of sherbet/ice cream hybrid called “goody goody” in Japan-style spelling—is as reliable as sunrise. Henry’s daughters Gail and Cindy and niece Kelly run the shop now, the fourth generation. (“Don’t forget to mention my wife Florence,” says Henry. “Just say, ‘He’s married to a very nice lady.’”) The Tasakas produce and sell about forty gallons a day not counting the takeout orders popular with interisland travelers. (Quart-sized tubs packed in foil and newspaper will keep firm for up to three hours.)
Their most famous customer was post-presidential Bill Clinton, who swooped in surrounded by security forces that closed the shop temporarily. “The LA Times wanted to put my recipe in the newspaper,” says Henry. “I said forget it.” If you have one thing that works, grab it and hold tight. That’s the Tasaka success principle. “In Honolulu several shops sell ‘Maui-style sherbet.’ I know they’re talking about our product. If they think their product can match ours, they should come up with their own name.”