￼Pleasing customers one poke bowl at a time
By Elima Pangorang
Ask anyone familiar with the Tanioka name and, in addition to hearing about the scrumptious local food from the popular business, Tanioka’s Seafoods & Catering, you’ll also hear about the family’s generosity, humility and how they are among the nicest people you would ever meet in your life.
Mel and Lynn Tanioka opened the doors of Tanioka’s Seafoods & Catering in October 1978 in a modest 1,000-square-foot shop. The couple’s specialty: poke.
“My dad liked poke,” recalled Justin Tanioka, divulging the eatery’s beginnings as they were told to him. “He, my grandpa and his friends all used to fish out of Haleiwa Boat Harbor, catching ahi and aku for fun. My mom was working at Bank of Hawaii in Waipahu, and he would mix it and bring poke to their pau hana Fridays. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, this is super good!'”
The popularity of Mel’s pau hana Friday treats led to the establishment of a little poke shop. Today, the business has grown into a local mainstay for many people and businesses.
While just a newborn at the time of Tanioka’s opening, Justin and older sister Jasmine grew up helping their parents at the store. Fast forward 40 years later, and the siblings are a vital part of the company as Justin handles day-to-day operations out front, while Jasmine takes care of everything and anything behind the scenes.
If anything, the Taniokas have worked hard at creating an environment in which their employees can thrive.
“They like to bless other people with the success they have and try to make them more successful or better off in their life,” shared retail division manager Tad Yamakawa. “They think about expanding businesses (and) coming up with other ideas … not to make more money for themselves, but to pay their employees more or give them more benefits. That’s the main reason.”
On top of rolling out yummy lunch plates, bentos, okazuya and more, Tanioka’s caters several events, all on a daily basis. Fittingly, the company is always searching for enthusiastic, hard workers to add to its team.
“The biggest thing that I look for is the display of customer service,” said human resources manager Sandi Minamishin. “We specifically look for (employees) smiling, greeting and saying ‘thank you.’
“That respectful type of welcoming (is an important trait), because that’s really what Mel and Lynn Tanioka have created. They’re very loving and kind, and they make you feel welcome. So that is something we want to continue.”
In addition to character, Minamishin and Yamakawa explained they also pay attention to the types of skills that applicants posses that are applicable to the job position. Customer service experience is a plus, as is having a clean driving record, meeting the age requirements for certain positions, and passing a mandatory drug test.
Tanioka’s also sets up a comfortable work environment for its staff by providing a lounge where staffers can eat and rest, and lockers to store their belongings. Additionally, the company hosts an annual party for its workers.
“The employees look forward to it because it’s a time when everyone can get together, and it is fun!” Minamishin said. “When I go to those things, what I see is camaraderie and lots of interaction.
“What’s really big is that we have a lot of games and people are all over the place and having so much fun. It’s just about getting everybody involved. And then, of course, there are prizes that you could win, but the Tanioka family makes sure that everyone goes home with something.”
Not only do the Taniokas make it a point to create a welcoming work environment, they also extend it out to the community with the Tanioka Charity Foundation, which has provided many people and businesses with generous contributions raised by the organization.
From customer service to community assistance, the humble folks that make up Tanioka’s Seafoods & Catering are all in on the happiness and well-being of everyone around.
“Our whole family believes in quality,” said Justin. “I know we can’t make everyone happy, but we’ll try and that’s been our motto since day one, ‘Quality foods with a friendly smile.'”
ANTHONY CONSILLIO PHOTOS
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COMPANY: Tanioka’s Seafoods & Catering
LOCATION: 94-903 Farrington Hwy., Waipahu
FOUNDERS: Mel and Lynn Tanioka
BENEFITS: Medical (HMSA and Kaiser), personal time off, profit sharing, employee discount on food
NOTEWORTHY: The Tanioka Charity Foundation, created by Mel, started off as a playful golf tournament with eight friends. Today, the non-profit organization has helped countless entities across the community and island raising thousands of dollars every year. These include Waipahu High School, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Pali Momi Medical Center and Mililani Missionary Church, just to name a few.