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When you mention Liliha Bakery to anyone familiar with this famous Hawaii landmark, the first thing that comes to mind is: coco puffs! The little bakery nestled in the heart of Liliha is a pastry machine when it comes to pumping out thousands of those chocolate-filled puffs – easily selling 7,000 in a single day. The oven’s fired up by 2 a.m. and doesn’t stop working till 10 p.m. everyday. Bite down through each savory layer of the coco puff – the chantilly frosting, the flaky outer crust and finally the creamy chocolate inside – and you’ll know why so many have gone kookoo for Liliha coco puffs.
Keep reading to find out a little known fact about Liliha’s coco puff.
It’s not just those delightful puffs, however, that have had pastry patrons coming back for the past 50-plus years. It’s the old-school dining experience that has given the bakery a unique 50s ambiance found nowhere else in modern-day Hawaii. A bar-style seating area allows customers to get a raised view of the decadent dishes that’s whipped up before them – bacon, omelets and pancakes racing to the crispy finish line.
Waitresses in hairnets and high-waisted aprons whiz past each other, taking orders as quickly as the cook fries up a sunny side up. And you know the cook’s good when his apron is still crisp and clean by late afternoon. The orderly, old-fashioned style of cooking always leaves customers feeling a bit nostalgic, back at home in Mom’s kitchen, where the subtle sizzles and traces of flavors in the air can instantly salivate anyone’s taste buds.
A step back in time to an old-fashioned diner, one of Liliha’s biggest attractions.
Liliha Bakery’s open 24-hours a day, almost every day except Mondays. It’s one of the few eateries opened past midnight on Oahu. Be prepared to wait in a line, however, despite how late in the day it is. The bar has limited seating, and if you arrive with a party larger than three people, it’ll probably be difficult to find seats together. The wait’s always worth it; we usually get the sweetbread french toast when we go, but the bakery serves everything from loco mocos to tuna melts to steak/eggs.
A perse spectrum of hungry customers hop on and off those bar stools every day; some return like clockwork, ordering the same dishes time and time again. You’ll see old-timers catching up over a cup of coffee; visiting families excited to try their first coco puff; and kids digging in their pockets for spare change to buy a sugary after-school treat. Owners agree that it’s this loyal foodie following that has made Liliha Bakery what it is today.
Liliha has a history as rich as the sweets it serves.
The family-run business started in 1950 by Roy and Koo Takakuwa, not as a bakery but as a tiny retail outlet that sold loaves of bread. The popularity of their baked goods outgrew the tiny store, prompting them to move to their current spot on Kuakini Street and to expand their selection of sweets and food items. When Roy passed away in 1985, their son, William, took over. In 2008, the family passed on their legacy to local entrepreneur Peter Kim, who’s devoted to carrying on the bakery tradition and preserving its character.
Check out Liliha Bakery next time you’re in town and see for yourself why it’s such an integral part of our local community. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bakery start getting some coco puff requests from overseas. It also made a television debut on Hawaii Five-0, perched on the hood of a car in the opening scene as Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) explains to Danno (Scott Caan) what a coco puff is. But what he doesn’t mention is that it was really the chantilly cake that first made Liliha Bakery known in the community. And it wasn’t until someone had the great idea 40 years ago to add a dab of chantilly frosting to the coco puff, making it an instant hit…how’s that for a little family secret?
Photo Credit (first): Bruce Fisher
LILIHA BAKERY • 515 N. Kuakini St., Honolulu, HI 96817 • Opens 24 hours a day from Tues, 6am to Sun, 8pm; Closed Mondays • 808-531-1651 • www.lilihabakeryhawaii.com • Free parking available; Near bus route