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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 11, 2003

Shishido Manju ends 55-year run

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

WAILUKU, Maui — Travelers will have to find another omiyage from Maui, because after Monday they no longer will be able to pick up a box of manju or mochi from the Shishido Manju Shop, which is closing after more than 55 years in business.

Alice and Garnett Shishido spent the better part of their lives making one of Maui's best-loved omiyage staples.

Christie Wilson • The Honolulu Advertiser

A family dispute over use of the shop's Lower Main Street property in Wailuku spelled the end of the bakery, which has been run by three generations of Shishidos.

"It's weird. It's all we know how to do," said Elton Shishido, 37, who took over the business when his father, Garnett Shishido, retired in 1997.

The bakery was started around 1947 by Garnett's parents, Takichi and Tokue Shishido. Takichi was a baker from Fukushima, Japan, who worked at Pu'unene Bakery. The Maui-born Tokue was a nurse at Hospital Camp at Alexander & Baldwin's Pu'unene sugar plantation.

Oddly enough, they licensed their business as the Pu'unene Potato Chip Factory. They purchased the equipment and packaging to make potato chips, but for reasons no one in the family today is quite sure about, the factory never made a single chip.

Instead, the Shishidos began making manju, a traditional Japanese pastry with a sweet bean paste filling that is steamed, like manapua, or baked. They sold two for a nickel (now it's 80 cents apiece).

Garnett, who was about 10 or 11 at the time, remembers stirring large steam kettles to keep the bean and sugar mixture from burning. "It was hard work because it splashed and you got burned," he said.

A few years later, the Shishidos began making mochi using a recipe from Takichi's sister, Mrs. Omuro, who owned a restaurant in Wailuku town.

The family purchased the Lower Main Street property in 1960, built a new bakery and reopened in 1962. Garnett took over in 1965 when his father died; his mother died in 1999.

Garnett's wife, Alice, 63, rises at 2:50 a.m. five days a week to begin the mixing and baking, and often works past noon. Her "secret" bean paste recipe and expert touch in making the mochi, famous for its light texture are key to the bakery's success.

"Nobody else make it like that. We make 'em soft so no get hard and it's fresh," said Garnett, 66, who still handles the deliveries.

He admits that many people thought he was mean because of the gruff manner in which he dealt with customers, but he said it was all about ensuring quality control.

He used to grill patrons about their travel plans and instruct them when to come in to pick up their mochi so it would be its freshest. They were scolded if they didn't keep it cool or left it in the car.

"I told one lady one time, 'You keep my mochi in the trunk? Do you keep your baby in the trunk? It's going to spoil,' " he said.

After a major O'ahu supermarket chain made a deal to sell Shishido mochi and the first batch that was shipped spoiled in the store, Garnett told them to forget it because they didn't know how to properly handle the product.

When Elton took over, he added a lemon filling to the baked manju (they no longer sell the steamed variety), peanut butter and chocolate fillings for the mochi, and a new product called Azookie Bean Cookies.

On a good day, the shop makes 2,500 pieces of manju and mochi — most of it to fill orders. They make a little extra each day but it sells out fast.

Steve and Mary Bonwich of Virginia were on a mission yesterday afternoon to bring some Shishido mochi back to O'ahu for their daughter, who had heard about the shop and first tried the confection during her honeymoon on Maui three years ago.

Two hours before their plane was to leave for Honolulu, the Bonwiches popped into the store but had to leave empty-handed because the day's output was sold out.

"She loves the mochi. She sent us to come and get mochi since she knew we were coming to Maui," said Mary Bonwich. "We're just too late."

That kind of word-of-mouth advertising and devoted following helped Shishido Manju Shop survive when other mom-and-pop operations folded. Elton Shishido also believes the island tradition of generosity and sharing was vital in keeping the shop open all these years.

"All the editorials and everyone talks about how the aloha spirit is dead. It's not — we see it every day. People spend their hard-earned money to buy this to give to their friends," he said.