Stories of Aloha by Jocelyn Fujii
FINE WINE FINDS
[From Spirit of Aloha, July 1995]
Who would have thought that Fujioka Super Market in Haleiwa, a three-generation family business that began as a plantation store, would become the Napa Valley of the North Shore? Ask Lyle Fujioka, and he’ll tell you an amazing tale of forward-thinking, hard-working ancestors, their imaginative offspring, a brush with blindness and the wondrous workings of destiny.
“Years ago, I had severe glaucoma and almost went blind,” begins Fujioka, president of Fujioka Super Market. “I underwent glaucoma surgery in San Francisco and, because Napa Valley was so close, I went there to convalesce.” There he discovered the marvels of wine tasting and the culinary lifestyle, and decided to transplant them into the heart of Haleiwa.
In the past two years, as the store’s wine selection has become palpably more prominent (and Lyle Fujioka’s trips to Napa much more frequent), customers have been doing double-takes at the stellar cabernets, merlots, esoteric viogniers, and new premium French and Italian imports lining the aisles. And the prices so low they reflect California, not Hawaii, pricing.
In Haleiwa, where many of Honolulu’s executives have weekend homes, and where many of the residents are baby boomers whose lifestyles include the consumption of wine, word spread far and wide, and very quickly. Although collectors are now driving all the way from Honolulu to Haleiwa to buy their wines, often by the case, Fujioka also credits the strong support of the local community. “Without the ability to sell everyday wines, we couldn’t offer the premium wines,” he adds. To accommodate its burgeoning clientele in the corporate world, the store now delivers cases of wine every week to business addresses or various pickup points downtown.
Among the wine connoisseurs, says Fujioka, is a large contingent of Oahu physicians who are known as the “top collectors on the island.” One day, recalls Fujioka, a pediatrician, who regularly drives from Hawaii Kai to the North Shore to surf, “walked into the store, looked at the wines, and couldn’t believe what he saw.” Because the pediatrician-surfer happened to be a leading member of the Dead Liver Society, a wine-tasting club of physicians with savvy palates and ample funds, there was no turning back for Fujioka Super Market.
You don’t have to be a wine lover to appreciate the store, however. In addition to necessities, you’ll find everything from wonderful produce to a progressive assortment of cheeses and healthy, no-cholesterol, organic frozen foods. Across the parking lot, the plate-lunch stand called Country Drive-Inn is slated this fall to become a Mediterranean bistro with a wine bar specializing in wines carried by the store. Even with these changes catering to the yuppie lifestyle, Fujioka never forgets the store’s modest origins. His father, the late Hiroshi Fujioka, was one of seven children, born in a century-old plantation store in Waialua called the Fujioka Store. The store sent the five children of Hiroshi and Eloise Fujioka to the finest private schools here and on the Mainland. Today, Carole Fujioka is a prominent veterinarian in Wahiawa. Greg, the oldest of three sons, has a fine-arts degree and manages the original store in Waialua. Norman, with a degree in architecture, manages the super market, and Scott is a banker in Los Angeles. Lyle, a political science major, is president of the company.
Although the conventional wisdom is that you should never go into business with another family member, says Lyle, “In our case, having the family ties is an asset.”
Photos by Brett Uprichard
The Fujiokas leased their Haleiwa market in 2003 and it’s now operating as Malama Market. Four years after this article was written, Lyle Fujioka opened Fujioka’s Wine Merchants in Market City Shopping Center, which became wildly popular among wine lovers. In 2004, Fujioka sold his store to Times Supermarkets and now serves as their consultant.
OWN THE COLLECTOR’S EDITION
Stories of Aloha: Homegrown Treasures of Hawai‘i is the acclaimed book by Jocelyn Fujii, a rich compilation of stories from the pages of Spirit of Aloha, with a foreword by Richard Chamberlain, who writes, “To embrace the soul of Hawaii, take Jocelyn’s hand and follow her into the lives of Hawaii’s greatest treasures: her people.” The book is available at www.hulamoonpress.com