Under matriarch’s watchful eye, a 4th generation embraces tradition at this Chinatown lei stand

For over 60 years, Cindy's has been at its same location in Chinatown, run by the same family through four generations.
Published: Feb. 10, 2023 at 5:22 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 10, 2023 at 9:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pay a visit to Cindy’s Lei and Flower Shoppe and Cindy Lau herself is always right in the mix, working in the same shop she and her family started in the 1950s.

Back then, the Maunakea Street location doubled as a barber shop and lei stand.

“When I young, I stay outside in front right by the cars,” Lau said. “Now I old. The eye, the ear, everything not so good. So I sit down in the back and do my job. I tell everybody what to do. All the worker now follow me.”

Among those carrying on the family business is Lau’s daughter, Karen Lee, who oversees daily operations.

She and knows the tireless, intricate work that’s required for the art.

“When the flowers first come, not 100% is usable,” Lee said.

“A lot of times, we spend a lot of time manicuring. We spend a lot of time tossing.”

Over the years, they’ve seen their lei put the Hawaii touch on special occasions, including birthdays, retirements, funerals, weddings and inaugurations.

“People will just anecdotally come up to us and kind of share their stories (like) ‘my mother shopped here back in the 70s. My grandma shopped here, back then too, like the 60s, and kind of later on,’” said Nicholas Lee, Lau’s grandson. “That’s really powerful.”

Lee and his cousin, Alex Lau, represent the fourth-generation in the family business they’ll carry on.

“From a very young age, we started plucking flowers and it came to selling leis, " Lau said. “You get into ordering leis and putting things together, then you learn how to make flower arrangements.”

Over the years, this stand has defied the odds to string together its own long history — weathering COVID, outlasting competitors, and taking business online and international.

Yet, there are concerns for the future, primarily cultivating interest in not only making lei but growing supply.

“If we’re able to continue to perpetuate that, just kind of keep it in the consumer market and we’d be able to keep a lot of the traditional designs and the culture in existence. that’s a big group effort,” Lee said.

As for Lau, she knows how she plans to spend her time and is leaving the business up to them.

“I’m so old already, they can do what they like,” Lau said.