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A woman's work.

It used to be that a woman's place was in the kitchen. It still is-but now, she's managing food-related ventures, many of them generating several hundred thousands of dollars a yea. The Big Island alone has three shining examples of women who head small businesses that are serving up popular food products or services, that have growth potential and supply steady employment for Island residents:

* After her days of epicurean globetrotting were through, Margo Elliopoulos returned to Kona to staff Bluewater Cuisine, a private catering service that brings in $1 million annually and which financed the purchase of a boutique restaurant, the Beach Club.

* Han Sung Barry enjoyed her first taste of success after she won a local cooking contest in 1978, an award that launched the $275,000-a-year-business, Mrs. Barry's Kona Cookies.

* Down in Punalu'u, manager Stephanie Tabbada is in the dough at a bake shop that turns out 4,000 loaves of sweetbread a week, employs 12 workers and is expected to bring in $400,000 in revenues in 1989.

Bluewater Cuisine

Margo Elliopoulos knew she would live and work on the Big Island back in the 1960s, when she visited her uncle, George Lycurgus, the founder of the Volcano House. Ten years ago, she felt compelled to make the move. By that time, Elliopoulos had earned a certificate in pastry preparation from the Cordon Bleu. cooking school in Paris, had worked as a pastry chef at the Sun Valley Lodge, and had been hired as a con.sultant in a catering business in San Francisco. She' had also been in charge of food preparation aboard the Panda, one of Aristotle Onassis's many vessels, when it was anchored in Antigua and cruising throughout the Caribbean.

After settling in Kona in 1978, Elliopoulos began looking for her niche in the local food service business. An aficionado of fine European fare, she began selling gourmet lunch es to the captains of Kona charter boats to appease the appetites of their tourist passengers.Thus was launched her catering business, Bluewater Cuisine, which later expanded its repertoire to include food for private parties aboard Kona-based yachts.

Soon after, she was asked to cater several large Christmas parties and by then was billing about $5,000 a month. By the end of the year, she had more than 200 clients, catered about six events per month, and had hired a hilltime staff of three. Hungry for expansion, Elliopoulos went after the lucrative meetings and conventions market. She signed catering contracts with large corporations such as Coca Cola, Pepsi and Rockwell Industries, that held major conventions on the island. She also worked with incentive groups at properties like the Mauna Lani, Sheraton Waikoloa, the Kona Surf and King Kamehameha to cater offproperty events for large groups of 500 to 1,500 guests.

In 1983, Elliopoulos began her search for a catering hall. When she approached officials at Hasegawa Komuten, owners of the Kona by the sea resort, they agreed to rent her space, She not only opened a catering hall but a 75-seat boutique restaurant called the Beach Club. Sales continued to soar when, three years ago, she signed a contract with Hemmeter Aviation to provide all of the in- flight catering services aboard the corporate jets based there and which now represents nearly a third of her business. Elliopoulos has also agreed to upgrade the food services at the 45- room Captain Cook Hotel on Christmas Island, located about 1,200 miles south of Honolulu.

Her most memorable catering event was a dinner party in honor of Prince Phillip thrown by wealthy socialite Barbara Cox Anthony and her husband, Garner, at their ranch in Kona. Elliopoulos had been warned by the prince's security personnel not to shake his hand, But while she and her staff were preparing the repast (fresh ono with an ohelo berry/passion fruit sauce, prime rib, maitre d'potatoes, Waimea tossed greens, baby vegetables from Molokai, com bread and apple pie), Prince Phillip left the party and meandered into the kitchen. He walked over to Elliopoulos with a smile and extended his hand. "We had a great conversation about Greeks and their interest in food," she recalls.

Elliopoulos currently has a full- time staff of eight, which works out of a 1,500-square-foot kitchen in the Kaloko Industrial Park in Kona. She also hires as many as 30 part-time service workers for large events. Although Elliopoulos rarely gets involved in the food preparation these days, she does taste-test all of the dishes and goes after new clients by promoting her theme parties with reson managers. But with revenues of more than $1 million annually, she can now be more selective in her assignments and prefers to sign catering contracts one year in advance.

Elliopoulos caters events on other islands but does not plan to move her base from Kona. "This is a small place, so I've been forced to be creative," she says. "I've done everything from catering on sites with no water and electricity, to producing fine meals in Kona's most elegant homes."

Mrs. Barry's Kona Cookies

Born in Keeau, Han Sung Barry first maed baking as a teen-ager, when she mailed peanut butter cookies to her brother, who was stationed with the U.S. Army in Korea. But since her family's home had no electricity, her oven was a kerosene stove ,covered with a make-shift cardboard box. Despite that primitive method, her cookies were a hit with her brother and his Army buddies, and she developed a knack for baking. later, Barry became a teacher and spent a total of 19 years teaching elementary students in the public school system.

On a lark in 1978, Barry decided to enter a cooking contest sponsored by the Hawaiian Holidays' Macadamia Nut Factory in Honokaa, She baked 40 variations of her chocolate chip cookie recipe until she was satisfied with her entry. It won first place, and started her thinking it could be the catalyst for a new career.

Determined to at least give it a shot, Barry persuaded her husband, James, a teacher and football coach at Kona waena High School, to sell their home in Ahualoa and relocate the clan to Kona, where die weather and tourist trade were more appealing. She was granted a one-year leave of absence from her job at Kealakehe Elementary school, but before her departure, asked the cafeteria mananager to teach her how to use the mixer and ovens. "I had no experience with Urge batches and I didn't know what to buy or what to do," says Barry. "So I volunteered to make cookies for a fundraising bazaar at die school and learned to bake in large batches."

Comfortable with the process, Barry began packing in preparation for her move to Kona. But nagging questions haunted her: "Am I doing die right thing? What if I can't find rentable space? What happens if my cookies don't sell?" Despite those initial misgivings,things have worked out well. Barry was offered a 429-square-foot site at the newly opened Kona Inn Shopping Village. With $45,000 from the sale of her home, plus a $5,000 loan from her sister, Baff y set up shop with the help of a part-time worker in August 1980.

In its first year of operation, Mrs. Barrys Kona Cookies rang up sales of $82,000. By 1986, with revenues of more than $100,000 annually, she opened another 620-square-foot Mrs. Barry's store in Lahaina, Maui, which is managed by her 26-year-old daughter, Katherine. By 1988, both operations were racking up gross revenues of $275,000, with about 10 percent of that representing mail order sales.

While Barry now delegates the baking duties to others (her son, Jamie, 24, is head baker at the Kona store), she continues to do all of die ordering, bookkeeping, mailing and tracking of inventory. It's common for her to work 12 hours a day, starting every morning at 7:30. So why not kick back and take it easy at this point? "I can't relax," says the 53-year-old Barry. "My mother (founder of the Keeau Kim Chee company) worked until the day she died at 82."

As far as competition goes, Barry doesn't worry about that aspect of the business. "My type of cookies we different than Mrs. Field's type cookies," she says. "Mainlanders like the sweet and chewy type, but local people prefer mine because they are crispy." As far as expanding into the wholesale distribution side of the businesswhich can be more lucrative because of the larger volume-Barry draws the line. "Then it becomes work," she says, shaking her head. "This way, I can talk to my customers every day and see that they are happy with the product."

Punalu'u Bake Shop

For years, Big Islanders flocked to the Punalu'u Black Sands Restaurant for its specialty, Portuguese-style sweetbread. But after the infamous tidal wave of 1964, the Black Sands scaled back on its bakery operation and concentrated on rebuilding the restaurant side of the business. That ended the sweetbread production until 1984, when a bartender offered to come up with a new and refined recipe for the favorite local food. Other members of the bakery crew pitched in, with the result a square, one-and-a-half-pound loaf capable of being sliced into sandwich-sized pieces.

To test the waters of marketability, Punalu'u Resort owner C. Brewer started small, selling the product through retail stores in Naalehu, Waiohinu and Pahala. But after die Sure Save supermarket in Hilo agreed to sell the sweetbread in fall 1984, production rose to 800 loaves a week, and by year-end 1985, sales had reach ed $48,000. Then, in 1986, the jungle Gift Shop at the Hilo Airport touted "The World Famous Punalu'u Sweetbread" as the locally made product that participants in the Merrie Monarch Festival should tote home as souvenirs of the occasion. Thanks to that promotion, revenues jumped to $165,000 that year. The momentum kept going, with revenues of $277,000 the following year, $310,000 in 1988 and sales that are expected to top $400,000 by the end of this year.

Bakery manager Stephanie Tabbada and her crew of 12 turn out the 4,000 loaves a week that are sold to major supermarkets on the Big Island, and in retail stores at Hilo airport and on Maui. The 35-year-old Tabbada, a graduate of Ka'u High School, had been working at the resort for more than 15 years in various secretarial, personnel and accounting positions, before settling in at Punalu'u Bakery. Not one to mince words, she predicts that within five years, the operation will be "as big or bigger than King's Bakery" in Honolulu.

That possibility has not gone unnoticed by C. Brewer. Earlier this summer, when the Big Five firm sold the 435-acre Seamountain at Punalu'u Resort to Sekitei Kaihatsu Co., Brewer Vice President Mufi Hannemann insisted on retaining the Punalu'u Bake Shop. ")When you think of C. Brewer, you think of Mauna Loa macadamia nuts or sugar, says Hannemann. "But here is a small business within a big conglomerate that we feel can become a million-dollar business for us within a few years."

Hannemann, who is acting as a consultant to Sekitei during the ownership transition period, says he's fielded offers to distribute the sweetbread in major supermarkets and convenience stores on all the islands, but has turned them down until he can find larger quarters to house the bakery. He is waiting for county zoning approvals to tum C. Brewer's plantation house in Naalehu-currently Hannemann's residence-into a combination bakery and visitor center. If the request is approved, it will be billed as the "southernmost bakery in the United States," and will offer a menu of pies, cakes, juices, sherberts, sorbets as well as sweetbread.

"Our sweetbread is a homegrown product that Ka'u people take great pride in," boasts Hannemann, who adds that c. Brewer made the decision to keep the bakery in the small town despite compelling arguments to relocate closer to markets in Hilo or Honolulu. "And Stephanie is a natural fit. As a Ka'u High School graduate, she was first employed by C. Brewer as a secretary at SeaMountain resort. Now, she's running the bakery."
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Title Annotation:Hawaiian women in food products and services
Author:Jokiel, Lucy
Publication:Hawaii Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Nov 1, 1989
Previous Article:A stitch in time.
Next Article:Growing pains.

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