Business Monday: Matsuyama family opens third store in North Kona
Matsuyama Food Mart on Palani Road in North Kona is known for a lot of things.
The individually wrapped spam musubis with egg filled with rice and wrapped in seaweed is a particular favorite of customers, usually all gone by 8 a.m. at both the mauka store above Palisades and the Matsuyama Market off Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway across from Kohanaiki.
With the opening of a third Matsuyama family-run store, located on Kahilihili Street less than two miles from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport, the famed musubis never run out as kitchen employees ensure there are always enough made throughout the day.
Matsuyama Food and Fuel opened on Dec. 27. A grand opening with a blessing is scheduled for sometime in February. Burke Matsuyama, 79, said the third store was part of his father’s vision who opened the mauka Food Mart in 1981.
Burke Matsuyama said his father, Hiroshi, had an eye for properties where he knew their stores would not only be successful but fill a need. The first market served North Kona’s Kalaoa community with a local grocery store, offering breakfast, hot bentos, pizza, and marinated meats, along with basic groceries. The makai location, which opened in the early 2000s, catered to the commuters and workers employed in the Kohanaiki area.
This new store, the family’s flagship location, will serve visitors coming and going from the Big Island and a stop for last-minute beach snacks and food.
“It’s an untapped market,” Burke Matsuyama said, adding the team’s focus is establishing the food made fresh daily in the kitchen.
While still involved with the business, Burke Matsuyama passed the day-to-day operations onto his four sons, Alex, 37, Ross, 31, and the twins Chad and Jason, 35. Alex Matsuyama leads the team at the new store.
While the new location also is a Texaco gas station, it offers an array of meals prepared from scratch. From loco mocos (hamburger patty, egg, rice and gravy), to beef curry, teriyaki chicken and lau lau (salt butterfish, pork or chicken cooked in an underground oven wrapped in ti leaves), the store’s latest item is Korean dipped katsu chicken. Most of the food is first created by Chad and Jason in their home kitchens.
“We try our best to serve them [customers] with good service and serve good food and make it convenient for them,” Alex Matsuyama said.
Alex Matsuyama said the goal is to get the food prep efficient enough at the new location to replicate at all the stores.
Alex Matsuyama attributed their family’s ability to expand as a result of the community’s support of the food marts over the years, as well as the commitment from their employees.
Emily Adams, hired to manage the makai store in 2008, is helping lead the team at the new store. She said it’s common to find Burke Matsuyama and his wife coming to the stores to help with cleaning, collecting trash in parking lots as well as the sons spending a shift in the kitchen.
“There’s nothing that they wouldn’t do that they would expect from their employees to do,” Adams said.
They’re doing it themselves. Yeah, even in the kitchen. Yeah, exactly.
Burke Matsuyama said the stores have become a central gathering place for the community as customers have approached him over the years to share their memories about coming into his store with their parents.
He said: “It’s a family relationship with the community. it’s humbling to see how my family has been accepted in this greater Kalaoa community.”
It’s also been rewarding to raise for Burke Matsuyama to pass the business on to his sons.
“I feel very privileged that I can have my sons with me working with me when I know so many fathers who have children not living in Hawai‘i,” he said.
Alex Matsuyama started learning how to stock shelves and fill the drink coolers at around 7 or 8. Getting into the family business seemed like a “no-brainer.”
“I guess it’s just something that you’re kind of like born into, so it worked out perfectly because I’ve seen it and had the experience from such a young age that it was kind of like a no-brainer to come back and help run the businesses along with my brothers.
Sitting on 1.3 acres of leased land from Natural Energy Laboratory Hawai‘i Authority, Burke Matsuyama said the family business has made an effort to be sustainable with its solar panels on the building as well as using deep sea ocean filtered to the AC unit to cool the store.
There is also a sitting area outside of the store for people to eat and enjoy the view of the ocean.