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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 20, 2003

Hilo saloon pilot crackers to retire with secret recipe

 •  Lee Cataluna: 'Cracker crumbles into history

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

"What used to make me happy is that the product went around the world, even if we couldn't."
Earl ikeda, Former chief baker
They have delighted Big Island taste buds for decades and served as an international ambassador of good taste, but after Tuesday, the famous Hilo saloon pilot crackers will fade to memory.

The Ikeda family, which has managed the Hilo Macaroni Factory since 1917, is closing the business at the end of the month. Production will stop on Tuesday, said David Ikeda, the factory's temporary manager.

Ikeda likens this to losing a member of the family.

"It has been a part of my life, all my life," the 59-year-old said.

They were convenient. As a boy, he carried them in his pocket. "If I wanted it as a dessert, I could put butter or sugar on it," he said. "If I wanted it as a lunch, I could put meat on it. It was like bread, but not bread."

Big Island residents have been calling Ikeda to mourn the loss of the 4-inch tan crackers.

"They are in a little bit of shock," Ikeda said. "There is a little bit of sadness. It is a part of their lives. They talk about growing up with the product."

Ikeda said no one in the family wants to take over the business — he's actually an agriculture teacher at Hawai'i Community College — and sales have slumped.

Although the business and the property are for sale, the recipe for the crackers is not, he said. Including that would have to be approved by the company's stockholders.

Earl Ikeda, a Buddhist priest in Puna who used to be chief baker at the factory, thought the business might have begun in 1908. The factory incorporated in 1914 and his family became its managers in 1917.

The origins of the cracker recipe are a little murkier.

"According to my father, as best as he could recall, there was a vessel with a German baker stuck in Hilo Bay during World War I," he said. "And the baker supposedly came off and taught Hilo folks how to make hardtack."

Family members modified the recipe to suit local tastes, and to this day it is a guarded secret.

Earl Ikeda, 55, said it was "a privilege" to make the crackers. "What used to make me happy is that the product went around the world, even if we couldn't."

He remembers how his father took pride in each batch.

"He took it very personally. He said if the product doesn't become an extension of you, it isn't alive."

On those rare days when the crackers failed to meet his standards, "we'd just throw it all away," Earl Ikeda said.

"We felt that since it represented Hilo, we wanted it to be right."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgor don@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.