Pukalani Superette is a friendly mix of just about everything a person needs from a snack to a smile. Maybe that’s why the little store on the corner of Haleakala Highway and Makawao Avenue bustles with energy.
One of the last of Maui’s true mom-and- pop establishments, the Superette is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and still going strong. “It’s common sense needs,” said Aric Nakashima, who owns the store along with his brother, Myles.
“Soap is soap, canned goods are canned goods. People need canned tuna, they need corned beef, they need Spam, flour.”
“Your-Easy-Does-It” Place for over 60 years!
Pukalani Superette, or Puk Sup (Pook Soop) as regulars have nicknamed the store, has tailored its inventory to its changing clientele. From its rural beginnings when sleepy Pukalani consisted of just a few homes and Kula was mostly a farm community, the market has adjusted to Upcountry’s eclectic mix of customers.
“Everybody needs coffee,” Aric said, recalling the days when a can of Folger’s would be fine. “But now you need a coffee grinder and a variety of coffee beans.”
The inventory reflects the changing purchase habits of the Upcountry community. The prepared hot and cold foods section offers ready-to-eat items for the busy customer. Chili Chicken, Chow Fun, Lau Lau (Chicken, Beef, and Pork) and Tako Poke are available every day of the week.
One can find bundled firewood, chicken feed, diapers, lentils, greeting cards, fresh flowers, cough drops, extra virgin cold press olive oil, ice, beer, coconut water, Bob’s Red Mill products, and baked goods and the list goes on, not to mention every staple a home might need from light bulbs to aspirin to ground beef. Recently, the Health Foods and organic selections have been expanded as more and more of our Upcountry customers request these items.
Most of the fresh produce comes from local farmers and is packaged for individuals, couples and small families. It’s a place where you don’t have to buy more than you need. And unlike some of the big stores, the shelves are almost always well stocked.
“We’re that size where it’s small enough where we can see the whole store, sort of like your house,” Aric explained.
On Monday morning, the store was buzzing with customers and employees. The checkout clerks laughed and chatted with patrons as they rang up purchases on modern scanners. The hub of activity was the prepared food area where clear containers of favorites like Chili Chicken, Spam musubi, chow fun, roast pork and rice stayed warm under infrared lights tempting those hungry for lunch or looking for a head start on dinner.
Prepared food is a big part of the business. In fact, the kitchen has recently been enlarged and the Nakashima brothers are venturing into the catering business. Delivery service for catered food items to most parts of Maui was recently added as a convenience for our customers. The prepared foods Puk Sup is known for today began back in 1927 with sushi.
“My grandmother made sushi,” Aric said. “Two kinds, cone sushi and rolled sushi.”
That legacy was continued by his mother, Sumiko Tanizaki Nakashima, and his aunt for many years thereafter.
General Manager Jerry Masaki is credited with moving the little store into the 21st century. “A lot were his ideas; he really knows what he’s doing,” Aric said. “We support him.” Today’s innovations aside, it was 60 years ago when all this began and it’s been a family operation from the start.
Takeo and Kome Tanizaki, issei who came from Japan to Hawaii to work on the plantations, first opened a small store in Wailuku. When that business was lost to a fire, in 1927 they built Tanizaki Store at a Pukalani location adjacent to the current building.
The old general store was similar to many of that era with a gravity-fed gasoline pump in front and the simple items people needed inside.
A new and larger store and now a Pukalani landmark was completed in 1955. “Yoshimura built the store,” said Moriaki Nakashima, Aric and Myles’ father. “It cost $17,500.”
The new store had an auspicious beginning. On opening day, Dec. 13, 1955, when the name was officially changed from Tanizaki Store to Pukalani Superette, Sumiko gave birth to her youngest son, Myles.
Moriaki worked for Kahului Railroad, his last 20 years with the company as a tugboat engineer. Sumiko worked at the store seven days a week until she retired in 1990.
A part of the community
Pukalani Superette supports many local organizations and businesses. For example, when the employees at Ah Fooks lost their jobs when the store burned down several years ago, they received gift certificates to buy groceries from Pukalani Superette. And we value the support of our customers who generously contribute to the events we’ve sponsored – Maui Memorial Cancer Foundation, local school fundraisers, as well as those of various non-profit organizations. We offer Senior discounts every day.
And the folks who work there seem to like being part of the Puk Sup family. In the early days there were only five or six employees, all women. “The ladies were getting older and they were still unloading feed,” Aric remembered about the time the staff began to expand.
Now there are more than 50 employees, and some, like Barbara Silva, who’s been with Puk Sup for more than 40 years, have been around for a long time.
The store has endured because it has kept up with the times yet held on to its friendly, neighborhood feel. Takeo and Kome Tanizaki must be smiling to know their dream is alive and thriving in today’s big box, bigger-is-better times.