Local gluten-free cafe bakes up sweets for all
By Don Robbins
Sweet Marie’s Hawaii Inc. is sweet indeed. The Oahu-based bakery, cafe and wholesale manufacturer serves up delicious treats that can be eaten by those with even the most sensitive digestive systems.
Chef and owner Marie Cassel explained that the company, located at 237 Kalihi St. in Honolulu, offers a storefront as well as specialized catering services, and bakes and sells a variety of gluten-free and allergen-friendly baked goods, entrees, salads and soups. Cassel emphasized that the business has been a pioneer in Hawaii’s food industry for its dedication to offering those products and services.
Originally from Philadelphia, Cassel’s interest in food prompted her to pursue a career in cooking. She worked as a catering chef for many years, and during her career Cassel moved to California and enrolled in the culinary arts program at University of California, Los Angeles. She spent two years there studying classic French cooking techniques and all aspects of fine food and wine.
She became interested in developing gluten-free and allergen-friendly fare after discovering in 1999 that she had celiac sprue, or celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease of the intestines in which the body has an inability to tolerate gluten.
After moving from the mainland to Kauai in the ’90s, Cassel started Sweet Marie’s Hawaii 22 years ago. The company relocated to its current Oahu location in November 2016.
“Sweet Marie’s Hawaii Inc. moved to Oahu in honor of our 10-year anniversary in retail sales and 18 years in wholesale manufacturing,” Cassel said. “Within the year, I have remodeled the kitchen and dining room, built a manufacturing facility and bought a food truck.”
The manufacturing facility is used for mass production, and caters to the company’s national and international following, as products are shipped all over the world, according to Cassel. Here at home, she added, Cassel recently signed a contract with the military so her food truck can go onto military bases to serve customers there.
“We also offer weekly meals for pickup to accommodate those with special dietary needs,” she said. The company even can deliver its products, if need be.
With such a multifaceted business, it takes a versatile team to keep Sweet Marie’s Hawaii running smoothly. In the hopes of expanding her business and her work family, Cassel said that the ideal employee is someone with good customer service skills, excellent work ethics and someone with a driver’s license (and clean abstract, which is imperative, as employees may need to help with deliveries). Additionally, a person who is passionate about learning, baking and cooking is desirable, Cassel said.
As an added plus, employees have the benefit of learning from Cassel’s decades of experience. “I love to teach!” she said.
Cassel explained that the company’s storefront serves breakfast and lunch during the store’s hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Additionally, the shop also is open by appointment for those who aren’t able to travel to the store during normal business hours, as well as for customers who are picking up special orders made in advance. Among the popular items on the menu at Sweet Marie’s Hawaii are muffins, pizzas, coconut shrimp and Caesar salad.
As proof of Sweet Marie’s Hawaii’s success within the community, the company has received a number of awards over the years. Among them, Cassel was recognized by Small Business Administration as a United States Small Business Person of the Year in 2012 on Kauai and, most recently, Best Gluten-Free Restaurant in Honolulu this year by Honolulu Award Program.
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COMPANY: Sweet Marie’s Hawaii Inc.
OWNER: Marie Cassel
BENEFITS: Employees receive medical benefits after a three-month probation period, as well as work clothes, such as aprons, if needed. Employees also can enjoy one meal and snacks per shift, free of charge, and employee discounts.
NOTEWORTHY: Shortly after Marie Cassel moved to Kauai from California, Hurricane Iniki devastated the island. The chef volunteered to run the Red Cross kitchen in Waimea, cooking 3,700 meals per day for the hurricane victims with the help of countless volunteers and limited provisions.
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