Market appeals to all of Hawaii’s ethnic tastes
By Don Robbins
Marujyu Market in Aiea focuses on providing local-food favorites for customers in a relaxed, friendly environment.
The market offers takeout plate lunches, seafood, poke and catering. Company president and CEO Jim Gomez said that Marujyu serves mostly working people during the weekdays, but on weekends, the crowd includes everyone, from millennials to retirees.
“When customers come in for a plate lunch, we make certain that they know we also cater,” Gomez explained. “Also, customers who come in for plate lunches frequently pick up some poke, and visa versa.”
The products Marujyu Market sells are weighted toward Hawaiian food, such as kalua pig, its popular squid luau, its best-seller laulau and poke.
“We also appeal to all the ethnic tastes of Hawaii, including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino and American. We have all of the local favorites plus some items that are a little unique for an establishment like ours, such as barbecue spareribs, pork and long squash, shiitake mushroom basa, ahi tofu patty and stuffed chicken,” Gomez added.
The seafood case is filled with about 50 items, with the most popular being dried items such as pulehu tako, dried ahi, dried aku, pipikaula and dried aku blood, according to Gomez.
“These are our higher-priced items but they draw people in from all over the island and the neighbor islands. It is very common for people to stop by on their way to the airport to visit relatives,” he said.
Catering also is a very important part of the business. The most popular catering menus from the market feature Hawaiian food, and common catering events include baby luaus and funeral catering. Additionally, the catering side of the business gets extra busy during graduation season, Gomez mentioned.
The workforce at Marujyu Market includes cooks, food servers, food-prep workers, cashiers, seafood and poke workers, and a bookkeeper.
“The cooks, of course, are the most skilled and usually have experience before they come to us. Seafood workers must also have special skills. Since all of our products are prepared in-house from scratch, the seafood workers must know how to go from whole fish and whole tako to poke,” Gomez said.
He shared that the establishment also is willing to train new employees in-house to provide them with the necessary skills needed for the job.
The workplace culture is very relaxed, he added.
“We encourage employees to interact with customers, not just serve customers,” Gomez said. For example, workers usually know customers by name.
Marujyu Market also differs from other eateries because there is a completely open concept in the retail and work areas.
“We are not the type of establishment that prepares and serves the food in the back, out of sight, and then pass the completed plate through a small window to be given to the customer,” Gomez said.
He added, “Customers can see everything from the front door to the back door. There are no walls. Customers can see workers preparing, cooking and serving the food.”
Furthermore, Gomez shared that the establishment follows through on its philosophy of “if it doesn’t look good, it isn’t good,” assuring loyal customers that the staff is performing its duties in a clean, sanitary manner.
The decades-old business was originally founded by Ed and Connie Tanabe, and started on Kinau Street before moving to Palolo Valley, and then settling in at Waimalu Shopping Center. During this time, it went from a mom-and-pop store to a successful full-service supermarket in Waimalu.
The Tanabes retired and the current ownership, including Gomez, took over the supermarket in 1993. Other company officials include vice president/general manager Brenda Gomez and store manager Stanlianne Blackman.
Marujyu Market moved to its current Aiea location in 2004. The market’s products and services are now concentrated on prepared foods, and it no longer operates as a supermarket.
The proliferation of fast-food establishments and big-box retailers began to impact the family-owned supermarket business in Hawaii, prompting Marujyu Market to morph into a sort of fast-food operation, said Gomez.
Since relocating, the company has found its niche in serving local cuisine that appeals to a plethora of taste buds and showcases the ethnic diversity of the Islands.
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COMPANY: Marujyu Market
LOCATION: 98-820 Moanalua Road, Aiea
PHONE: 487-0057 (market), 486-1883 (catering)
PRESIDENT/CEO: Jim Gomez
BENEFITS: Medical insurance, 401(k) plan and a cafeteria plan