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MARIE LAU

Owner of Hokulani Bakeshop

Success:

A participant in the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center Certification Training Cohort 2. She is in the final stages of completing the certification process for her business, Hokulani Bakeshop.

Marie Lau, the owner of Hokulani Bakeshop, was a participant in the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center Certification Cohort 2 from February to April 2021. Marie identifies as Korean and Chinese. She gained her bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa and has been working in the food industry for over 25 years.

For most of her life, she worked for her family business, Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory, where she learned how to run a business in the food industry. Marie became the General Manager for their largest location, Kapolei, and was a part of the process of making their dining area space to host venues. “I’m happy I was a part of this process and obtaining this goal of working on the structure on how to run it, I thought it was a huge win because it was an opportunity we didn’t plan for, but we could meet the needs of the community…”. However, after 7 years of working as the General Manager, she felt it was best to leave to follow her dream of owning her own business.

Marie quickly reached out to Hawai`i Small Business Development Center (HSBDC) to get assistance and resources; thus, being able to discuss her potential moves and finally found her opportunity to become a small business owner!

“I asked for some resources or classes I could take to start up my own small business. I didn’t have a product or service original to myself. One day, I called and asked, ‘What if I bought a small business and made it my own?’. The following day he (the director of the HSBDC) called back and told me he had something for me but it was in the food industry but not a direct competitor to my family business, which is amazing because it was really respectful. I wouldn’t want to be a competitor. He didn’t tell me what it was exactly, but when I finally met the previous owner of the business, we spoke and discussed some things. From there my journey with Hokulani Bakeshop began!” –Marie Lau, Owner, Hokulani Bakeshop

Hokulani Bakeshop is known for its scratch-made cupcakes, cakes, brownies, and cookies. “I don’t consider Hokulani Bakeshop as a bakery because we don’t sell a variety number of pastries”. Marie truly maximized her functionality of becoming a small business owner by using the knowledge, skills, and experience she’s gained with her family business and time spent obtaining her degree. She expresses that her inspiration to own the bakeshop derived from already knowing how to bake, as well as her experience working in the food industry. “I had prior baking experience, but when beginning ownership of the company, we did have a lot of recipes and as new staff came in, we passed on training to them… But for me, when posting a job, I make sure to put that experience is a plus not necessarily a requirement, however, if there is someone who has the baking experience, I would greatly appreciate them because I can learn a lot from them!”
Marie sternly believes that a great leader must have experience and knowledge in working in all parts of a business. “My management style is to learn every position because it can help me become a credible leader. To me, if I told my staff what to do without knowing how to do something myself that’s not a leader or credible, so I want to make sure I know every role…”. She was more than excited for her new chapter and was ready to perpetuate the great reputation Hokulani Bakeshop has.
“In 2016, it was the first year I fully took over and the bakeshop was in the cupcake craze. In 2012, Hokulani Bakeshop won the Food Network’s tv show, Cupcake Wars, which really put them on the map and I’m sure they were the first ‘cupcakery’ in Hawai`i. It’s safe to say that to this day many customers know the bakeshop by the winners of the Cupcake Wars. When customers ask, I always give credit where it is due and let them know that the bakeshop won the competition, but under the previous owner and staff…”. –Marie Lau

Besides Hokulani Bakeshop being known for their scratch-made pastries, they are also known for their various creative flavors and being organically made! Marie ensured that these were carried on under her ownership of the bakeshop, however, she faced some business obstacles as a new owner.

“When taking over, I wanted to ensure that I followed the same values, themes, and mission, which is making everything from scratch using no preservatives, fats, oils, or shortening; and we’ve remained true to that mission. We make over 18 flavors of cupcakes every day, which is something I believe is unique to us. When first taking over, there were three locations: Restaurant Row, Windward Mall, and Waikiki in the Hyatt. I am always faced with the decision of doing what was best for the company. Multiple locations may look like success on the outside to customers however if they aren’t performing, you’re only hurting on the inside which is not sustainable for the long-term and I was invested for the long term. I think that going back to the decisions I’ve made from the start, I think it was the right choice, but I also wanted to be more accessible, so I invested in our website, delivery apps, and became as accessible as possible since we were no longer four locations big.” – Marie Lau

Marie was faced with the fear of the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the survival of Hokulani Bakeshop. “I was a little scared because I wasn’t sure if we could stay open because we weren’t a take-out food place or a grocery store. I asked my staff if they were willing to work but if not then it was okay. We planned on staying open and making a go of it unless the government decided we weren’t ‘essential’ enough and only then would we close temporarily. But it was encouraging for us to hear the customers tell us how much they were thankful for our Bakeshop to stay open to help celebrate their special moments… I was very encouraged by the fact that we were making the slightest difference in everyone’s lives”. Upon the state reopening, business skyrocketed immensely, and she was now challenged with meeting the demand every day due to the vaccination clinic being conducted across the street at the Pier. As the vaccination rush has died down, there is a better picture now of the “new normal”.

“When the state reopened, we saw a drastic increase of orders come in, and figuring out how to keep up with the demand, was such a significant challenge for us! Because we’re just a small shop and with the limited employees dealing with handmaking our baked goods and pumping out hundreds of cupcakes every day, it can be challenging. We want to make sure everything looks good, but we’re still human and some things might not be spot on!”—Marie Lau

Regardless of the challenges, Marie finds what she does is exciting and rewarding. Seeing the customer’s reactions to new flavors or desserts makes the hard work worthwhile. What’s most rewarding to her is the time she devotes to network with other small business owners. “A lot of times you feel by yourself with the work problems, but when you start to talk with other business owners you can start to relate. I love meeting other owners and talking shop and creating the relationship with them to know that we can have each other’s back and support regardless of what the product or service is being sold. Sometimes for small businesses, it can seem like it’s hard to get resources and information to help our businesses grow…”.

Upon hearing about the Certification Cohort 2 opportunity, she felt excited and said, “Why not go for it?”. Marie heard about this opportunity from an industry friend, Camille Heung, owner of Valia Honolulu. She quickly realized that this was something that could be beneficial to her regardless of the outcome. “I went through with the process because at the time COVID was such a big question mark. I would ask myself ‘Are we going to have normal traffic or normal sales?’ and so with the opportunity of getting wholesale businesses certified and contracted came up, I thought ‘Why not have another tool under my belt and whip it out when I need it!’. I felt ready to take on another skill with my business being pretty established and situated I don’t intend it on being 90% of my gross revenue, but instead, I can use it as a supplement when needed because of the many unknown factors…”. After completion of the Certification Cohort, Hokulani Bakeshop is in the final stages of getting certified!

Marie’s piece of advice to aspiring small business owners:

“If you can get to know other owners of small businesses, it can help a lot and build knowledge! By talking to other owners, you can see a bigger picture of where you want your business to be and what you want for it! Getting to know them and building that relationship is just as important as any other part of your business!” –Marie Lau