The flavor and texture of King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls have delighted American tastebuds for years. The unmistakable sweet, soft, fluffy bread is synonymous with the company that many of us recognize in the grocery aisle whenever we see the orange and white logo in the shape of a crown.
The company is best known for its sweet Hawaiian rolls (via Reader’s Digest). Tourists used to purchase the bread as souvenirs on their trips to the islands, but now can grab a taste at their local store. The King’s Hawaiian spin on classic Portuguese sweet bread, which is often made with milk, sugar, yeast, flour, and pineapple juice in Hawaii, propelled the brand’s success in the mainland United States when they introduced it to many Americans for the first time. While this classic combo of flavors has found audiences far and wide, there’s more to this company than meets the eye.
The origins of the King’s Hawaiian name
At this point, King’s Hawaiian brand has become iconic, but the company once went by a different name. The story of King’s Hawaiian follows the family-run business from its humble beginnings, all the way to the national powerhouse that it is today. In 1950, the first business, called Robert’s Bakery, was opened in Hilo, Hawaii by founder Robert R. Taira after he studied baking and graduated at the top of his class (via King’s Hawaiian). According to the Daily Breeze, Taira was first interested in opening a bakery in post-war Japan but was unable to obtain permission to do so, and started cooking in Hawaii.
He specialized in pao doce, or Portuguese sweet bread. Taira perfected the recipe to extend the bread’s shelf life, settling on a round loaf shape and reaching the perfect baking method by 1958. The Hilo shop expanded, and in 1963, it moved to King Street in Honolulu under the name King’s Bakery. Named after the street where the bakery was located, King’s Hawaiian Street Bread was a main staple on the menu. As word spread about the business, Taira expanded the company by opening a bakery and production facility in Torrance, California. The new location opened in 1977 and officially adopted the name King’s Hawaiian.
King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls aren’t made in Hawaii
Although the family-run business has its roots firmly planted in Hawaii and continues to honor the area’s legacy, the King’s Hawaiian products enjoyed on the mainland are not manufactured on the islands. The bakery and production facility in Hawaii closed in 1992 (via LA Times).
Currently, King’s Hawaiian operates out of its headquarters in Torrance, California with a 148,000-square foot production facility that opened in 2004 (via Daily Breeze). When the facility opened, it tripled the production capability and allowed the company to continue expanding and supply the whole country with its rolls and sliced bread products. There is also an East Coast production facility in Oakwood, Georgia that has been in operation since 2010.
Some people were surprised to learn that their King’s Hawaiian bread is not actually baked in Hawaii. There was a class-action lawsuit brought against the company in 2020 that alleged the packaging of its sweet rolls misrepresented the origins of the product, although the back of the package included information about where the bread was made (via Hawaii News Now).
The King’s Hawaiian restaurants
Everyone knows that they can get King Hawaiian products at grocery stores, Costcos, and Walmarts across the country, but if you find yourself in California, you can visit two restaurants operated by King’s Hawaiian located near the company’s main headquarters and production facility in Torrance, California, per King’s Hawaiian Bakery and Restaurant.
The flagship eateries opened in 1988 to offer authentic Hawaiian cuisine and classic American dishes to the community and have been a South Bay staple ever since. The restaurant serves breakfasts that feature the signature sweet bread and traditional Hawaiian food like loco moco, spam musubi, kalua pork, huli huli chicken, and katsu curry. They also serve saimin, a classic dish made with noodles produced in small batches in the King’s Hawaiian production facility. Of course, the iconic King’s Hawaiian sweet bread rolls are for sale at the restaurant as well (via Eater).
The Local Place, a second restaurant location, opened in 2001. It is also located in Torrance but is a bit more casual and offers many of the same food and baked goods as the main King’s Hawaiian Bakery and Restaurant.
King’s Hawaiian partnered with Guy Fieri
When you think of King’s Hawaiian, a lot of things come to mind, like Hawaiian culture or their delicious baked goods. Now, you can add Guy Fieri to the list. King’s Hawaiian has paired up with the host of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" to promote their sweetbread rolls in a major marketing campaign. The partnership includes a year-long collaboration, commercials starring Guy Fieri, recipes that use bread from King’s Hawaiian, digital content, and more throughout 2021 (via Food and Beverage Magazine). This partnership marked the first omnichannel marketing campaign with a celebrity spokesperson featuring King’s Hawaiian and is a multi-million dollar effort to promote their products.
While Guy Fieri might not seem like an obvious choice for a spokesperson, King’s Hawaiian felt like it was a good match. As their Chief Marketing Officer said, "Guy not only has an eye for great food and a love for sharing it, like King’s Hawaiian, he also has a passion for giving back to those in need and embodying the Aloha Spirit, which is consistent with who we are as a company."
King’s Hawaiian has an official food truck
The bakery and bread company also has a food truck that serves up delicious meals made with their products as main ingredients. The King’s Hawaiian food truck made its first appearance in 2014 as a partnership between the company and the Culinary Arts Program at Kapiolani Community College (via Pacific Business News).
Honolulu Magazine reported on the truck when it first debuted. The truck was manned by students and instructors in the program under the guidance of chefs Mark Okumura and Lee Shinsato while it served food on the campus for lunch and at street markets, weekend events around the island of Oahu. It served dishes like bahn mi sliders on the King’s Hawaiian dinner rolls, a lechon kawali burger with Chinese-style roast pork, and Portuguese bean soup and grilled Hawaiian sweet bread.
Courtney Taira, the granddaughter of the company’s founder, spoke about the important mission of the food truck. The goal was to let the culinary students take the lead on the food, and allow the truck to be King’s Hawaiian’s return to the islands. "This is our home and heritage; our family is here," Taira said. "This is our first way to get back home."