A secret recipe has kept this Hawaii spot open for 70 years

Liliha Bakery is one of the oldest bake shops in Hawaii, and one of the few food establishments period that dates back to the middle of the 20th century.

Roy and Koo Takakuwa opened it in 1950 as a small shop on Liliha Street in Honolulu, where they sold loaves of bread. As popularity grew, the Takakuwas moved the bakery in 1961 to Kuakini Street (where you can still find the original location today), and over time, their baked goods have grown to include 150 varieties of donuts, pastries and cakes.

The business eventually passed to the Takakuwas’ son, Fred. Fred retired in 2008 and — with no other family member to take over — sold the business to local restaurateur Peter Kim.

Kim is the man behind Yummy Restaurant Group, which is flagshipped by his well-known Yummy Korean BBQ restaurant chain on Oahu, which he and his family started in 1987. Yummy Restaurant Group now has a total of eight different dine-in and takeout restaurant brands, including The Signature Prime Steak & Seafood at the top of the Ala Moana Hotel in Waikiki.

“When it came time, [the Takakuwas] entrusted our company, Yummy Restaurant Group, and Peter Kim with Liliha Bakery, then at that point we determined what our goals were and how to better serve the community, and at that point, expansion started,” Liliha Bakery marketing lead Connie Wong told SFGATE .

Over the last eight years, Liliha’s footprint on Oahu has grown to include four locations on the island, all of which also include a cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The latest (and first with outdoor seating and a full bar) opened at Waikiki’s International Market Place in November 2021 — and a fifth outpost is set to open in Pearl City in 2022.

And if you ask virtually anyone in Hawaii how it has been so successful, they’ll direct you to a delicious, light-as-air puff pastry filled with a creamy chocolate pudding and topped with a buttery Chantilly frosting.

That’s right: the Coco Puff.

The first-ever version of the Coco Puff was initially conceived by Liliha Bakery’s chief baker in 1970 but flopped almost immediately after making its way into the pastry case. It wasn’t until 1990 when another chief baker, Kame Ikemura, reformulated the original recipe and added the Chantilly frosting that it became a hit.

“A lot of people comment on our Chantilly, and I think it’s different from what you traditionally see on any kind of puff,” Wong said. The recipe for the Chantilly is a secret, but it’s been likened to the topping of a German chocolate cake, without the nuts and coconut.

It’s been the bakery’s signature creation for decades since, and locals have been known to buy thousands per day, most baked by longtime bakers who’ve been with the company for 20 to 40 years.

Liliha Bakery's Kuakini Street location opened in 1961 in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

Liliha Bakery’s Kuakini Street location opened in 1961 in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

Liliha Bakery

Coco Puffs show up regularly at offices around Honolulu and family get-togethers. There’s really no time in the day or occasion that’s the wrong time to eat one of them. Except maybe in a car with one hand, as I have mistakenly done, because one wrong bite sends chocolate cream squirting out the other end.

Developing a technique to eat a Coco Puff without the mess, though, is half the fun. Some people take small bites, others take one bite and the smart few will look for the little puka (hole) the chocolate pudding was piped through and start there.

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