Lee Cataluna: Hawaii Loved Love's Bakery, But That Wasn't Enough - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

It’s funny to think of Love’s Bakery as such an integral part of growing up in Hawaii. You’re supposed to think first of the pao dulce grandma used to make on warm Saturday mornings when the dough would rise nicely in the heat, or the andagi the neighbor would fry by the hundreds and bring over in greasy paper bags.

Those home-baked treats that only one specific pair of hands knew how to make tasted like everything good and real about home.

But Love’s bread, mass produced in a factory in the industrial part of Honolulu, tastes, for many, like a Hawaii childhood. It tastes like home just as much as the mango chutney made from the fruit of Aunty Ginny’s big tree or the crack seed grandpa used to actually soak and crack himself.

To hear that the big bakery that made the most basic of staples for Hawaii kitchen tables and lunchboxes for nearly 170 years is closing, a victim of the pandemic economy, is a shock larger than any other restaurant or store closing on the island.

Love’s Bread is connected to every store that sold it, from the biggest supermarkets to the smallest gas station mini-marts. In the everyday lives of Hawaii families, it’s more an extinction than a business closure.

Love’s Bakery made the bread for the iceberg-lettuce-and-tuna sandwiches served at the Senior Citizens bingo luncheons. It made the powdered donuts that were tied to a string for that silly game on the old Checkers and Pogo TV show in the 1970s.

Love’s made hamburger buns that were actually the right size for homemade hamburgers. On store shelves, it was the most recognizable brand to local eyes, the happy yellow-and-red label, the gingham checks that suggested picnic baskets and cookouts with friends, the red heart standing in for an apostrophe like a love letter written by a kid.

Perhaps the thing that will be missed most about Love’s Bakery, though, is the smell that wafted from its Kalihi factory onto the freeway on the drive into town from the airport. That part of the island seems nothing like an island — all concrete lanes, concrete dividers, concrete buildings and rows of cars that always back up under the Middle Street overpass.

But when you’re stuck in that bottleneck, there’s a moment to enjoy the smell of baking bread drifting from the bakery. That wonderful smell is a comfort, a welcome contrast to the congestion and grime of the city, an olfactory memory of softer things and gentler days.

Loves Fresh Bread. 22 june 2016
Love’s bread is ubiquitous on store shelves in Hawaii. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The company’s Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) letter and Hawaii Dislocated Workers Act notice, sums up the situation like a coroner’s report describing the cause of death:

“COVID-19 has had a major negative impact across many industries, including the hospitality, restaurant and retail industries. State, local and federal regulations implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have greatly affected many businesses, resulting in a dramatic decline in sales across all our locations. COVID-19 has also impacted many of our mainland suppliers causing delays in the ingredients and replacement parts for our aging bakery equipment. With the decline in revenue and the increasing expenses to keep a bakery running, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations as a faltering business. We are seriously delinquent in rent and were unable to qualify for the second round of PPP funding. We have not been able to obtain additional financing. While we hoped that our business could continue under the circumstances, Love’s Bakery … has decided to close and cease all operations on March 31, 2021.”

This one hits hard. Love’s bread has been breakfast toast with butter and guava jelly in Hawaii for generations. Like Grandma’s pao dulce and the neighbor’s andagi, Love’s products, particularly the basic white bread, have a very specific taste and texture.

Hawaii people may love their rice and their poi, but they love Love’s too, though maybe not in the same way because it was never hard to find.  For some, a replacement will always be second best, not because it’s not better, but because it’s not the same.

Beyond nostalgia is a deeper issue: How can we be serious about growing our own food and being self-sufficient in Hawaii if we can’t keep the one big bakery going without the tourist industry to prop up sales?

Love’s had equipment, facilities, trained workers, an established distribution system and the customer base. Hawaii couldn’t sustain even one of the most basic food products without tourists. How is diversified ag going to fill in the gaps with niche products or things people have to be taught to eat and love?

It’s not an unsolvable problem, but it will require understanding the sustainable scale of supply and demand, and contingency plans for survival should tourism take a nose dive again. Love’s had brand devotion and a long history in Hawaii, and that wasn’t enough.

Read this next:

Starting Monday: Hawaii COVID-19 Vaccinations To Include 70+

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

I was stationed on the Iron Curtain in Germany in the early 1960s and I would take my son to German Kindergarten.  One day the Frau met me at the door when I was picking up my son and she very German like told me in no uncertain terms that never send my son to school with that horrible white fluffy American bread that my wife purchased at the on base commissary but to buy good German bread.I told my wife she must go to the German bakery and buy good German bread for the school sandwiches.We still return to Germany as often as possible to get that wonderful whole grain Bauer Brot that is not available in the USA.Bauer Brot with Kase, butter and Monastery Beer is the ultimate experience!What an Hawaii attraction a beer bread making Monastery would be, a new religion.Mahi'ai

Mahiai · 2 years ago

It's sad that Loves bakery is closing.That being said, the demand for bakery products is still there, albeit a reduced demand.  This gives an opportunity for local bakeries to partially fill the void that Loves is creating.  No single bakery can replace Loves but collectively they can.  This can strengthen all the smaller bakeries and give them more business to survive the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

shk808 · 2 years ago

"...it will require understanding the sustainable scale of supply and demand..."[SEE Twinkies, 2012]  There doesn't seem to be any reporting on whether the workers might agree to pay cuts to ensure survival.  Based upon the number of loaves that go out to the state, there shouldn't have been that many unionized layoffs.  I don't know.  No one reported on it.Well...we're still short on unlimited supplies of Lysol, like what it was before February 2020...sounds like an opportunity to retool a bakery into a sanitizing spray manufacturing plant.  Good location, too.

Ranger_MC · 2 years ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.