Fresh Take: Business Lessons From The Family Behind King’s Hawaiian

Food & Drink

We’ve got a big one today, folks! I’m thrilled to unveil my Forbes Magazine feature on King’s Hawaiian and the family behind the rolls, the Tairas.

The business—led by the founder’s son Mark Taira since 1983—is a crown jewel of the food industry, and the family’s story has become one of success and the American dream. My comprehensive profile covers what they’ve accomplished and where they’re headed.

After spending time with Mark inside the family’s roll factory—where we ate hot King’s Hawaiian rolls fresh off the line—we went back to the headquarters in Torrance, California for a sit-down. I also interviewed his children and many other longtime employees. I share it all across a six-page spread.

I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say their rolls are category-defining, and the business itself is quite coveted—by bankers, investors, grocers and competitors alike. Requests to buy King’s Hawaiian come in all the time, says David W. Hasenbalg, Food & Beverage Group Head at RBC’s City National Bank, who has worked with the Taira family for two decades.

The Tairas say they never want to sell. But if they did, it would probably be a massive deal, says Hasenbalg: “Huge. I mean huge. Your multiple would be off the charts and the dollars would be enormous.”

Read the feature yourself. Lessons abound. Here’s one: Create a wide moat around the castle. King’s Hawaiian has a strong amount of leverage with retailers because the rolls sell faster than their expiration date arrives, unlike the fresh bread in waste-prone supermarket bakeries. When the King’s Hawaiian sales team meets with grocery store buyers, they can tout what sales representatives rarely can: King’s Hawaiian helps make their business, says John Linehan, the CEO of King’s Hawaiian parent company Irresistible Foods Group.

“I tell ‘em sometimes,” Linehan told me, “‘The reason you made your bonus three years in a row is because of this brand. Don’t ask me for a one-cent price reduction. I just wasted some jet fuel getting here, if that’s all you want to talk about.’”

That’s how King’s Hawaiian gets deals done, and why the 100% family-owned business is just getting started.

I’ll be dipping King’s Hawaiian’s latest launch—sweet pretzel bites—into a baked spinach-artichoke dip on Super Bowl Sunday. Are sliders in your future this weekend?

— Chloe Sorvino, Staff Writer

Order my book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, out now from Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books.

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Field Notes

I started my King’s Hawaiian reporting journey over breakfast with Mark Taira’s son Winston at King’s Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant in Torrance, California, a few minutes away from their headquarters and original roll factory. I enjoyed a plate of scrambled eggs, Portuguese sausage and fried rice, a side of King’s Hawaiian bread french toast, and an iced Shaka Tea.

I couldn’t resist ending the meal with a specialty from the business’ founder, Robert Taira, who was well-known for his chiffon cakes. The Paradise Cake pictured is one of the Taira family’s favorites, and I quickly understood why. It has three layers of different flavors—guava, passionfruit and lime—and the cloud-like fluff mixed with tropical tastes blew my mind.

Thanks for reading the 101st edition of Forbes Fresh Take! Let me know what you think. Subscribe to Forbes Fresh Take here.

Chloe Sorvino leads coverage of food and agriculture as a staff writer on the enterprise team at Forbes. Her book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, published on December 6, 2022, with Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books. Her nearly nine years of reporting at Forbes has brought her to In-N-Out Burger’s secret test kitchen, drought-ridden farms in California’s Central Valley, burnt-out national forests logged by a timber billionaire, a century-old slaughterhouse in Omaha and even a chocolate croissant factory designed like a medieval castle in northern France.

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