King's Bakery founder Robert Taira, dead at 79
By Zenaida Serrano Espanol
Advertiser Staff Writer
More than 50 years ago, Robert Taira borrowed $382 to open a tiny storefront bakery in Hilo to produce what would become the leading sweet bread sold nationwide.
"He was a very humble person and he knew everybody in the company, from the janitors all the way up to the top people," said Taira's son, Mark, CEO of King's Hawaiian Bakery, based in Torrance.
Taira was a warm and generous person, said company president Shelby Weeda, who knew Taira for 22 years.
"He was a very honest, straightforward businessman," Weeda said. "He dreamed of going to faraway places to sell his bread."
Taira's parents immigrated in 1906 from Okinawa to Hilo, where Taira was born Nov. 5, 1923, the ninth of 11 children.
After serving in the U.S. military as an interpreter during World War II, Taira attended baking schools in Hilo and Chicago.
In 1950, at the age of 26, Taira opened a storefront bakery in Hilo. Five years later, he purchased a half-acre in Hilo and built his first free-standing bakery from the ground up.
Taira sold his bakery in 1963 and moved to King Street in Honolulu, where he opened a bakery and coffee shop called King's Bakery.
In 1977 Taira expanded the business to California, building a 30,000-square-foot retail bakery facility in Torrance. He also built a family-style bakery and restaurant in Torrance in 1988.
The King Street bakery in Honolulu remained open until 1992.
King's Hawaiian Bakery, with 300 employees, continues to expand. A 151,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution center in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles will be completed by October, Weeda said.
King's Hawaiian products are available in leading supermarkets in more than 50 major market areas throughout the country and mass merchandise stores, including Costco, Sam's Club and Wal-Mart.
Taira is also survived by wife, Tsuneko; sons Curtis and Vaughn; daughters Laurene and Stella; and 11 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held 6 p.m. June 16 at Hosoi Garden Mortuary in Honolulu.