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Refusing to let iconic brand disappear, family guides Fujiya through pandemic

Published: May. 28, 2021 at 2:11 PM HST|Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 5:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Fujiya Hawaii, there’s an expectation of handmade quality.

It’s a proud tradition established in 1953. After the company went through several owners, Chris and Mari Kanemura took over operations in 2018.

“We’re probably the fourth generation of owners,” Chris Kanemura said. “For me, I have a connection to it because my grandmother worked at Shirokiya and she would always bring home Fujiya and all this different stuff from Shirokiya, so I have this deep connection to it.”

The Kanemuras’ first big move was to shut down their longtime Kalihi storefront and build a new location near McCully.

But in the middle of construction came COVID, which delayed the dreamed-of reopening.

“We’d question ourselves a lot of times and what does this mean and it’s costing more the longer it took just to get our doors open,” Mari said.

Finally, with construction done and a new business plan in hand, Fujiya made its return in September.

Pandemic restrictions limited walk-in orders, so they set up an online pre-sale platform and learned just how much they were missed.

”They (Fujiya employees) were surprised how busy it was and they just weren’t able to keep up with production,” Kanemura said. “It’s handcrafted, so there’s only so much you can make during the day, so we were constantly running out.”

Dani Emoto, who oversees the day-to-day production operations, is one of Fujiya’s seven employees and was surprised at the customer response.

“It was just so overwhelming and I kind of get emotional because a lot of customers were customers of the old Fujiya and they would come in and say, ‘We’re so glad you’re open again and we found you,’” Emoto said. “It was just amazing. We were happy that we were fulfilling what they wanted and it was like we were accomplishing something too.”

After that bumpy journey to the starting line, Fujiya is now looking toward a bustling future that includes an expanded digital platform, shipping to the mainland, and eventually internationally.

Further growing a brand that is already so entwined in the community.

“I think there’s so many places that have been of old that have gone, especially this past year, and to be able to see something like this, something that I’m connected to, to be able to see that, continue on here in Hawaii, that would be amazing,” Kanemura said. “That was an important aspect of what Fujiya meant to me.”

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