[Appeared in the Feb./March issue of Hana Hou! Magazine]
By Catherine Cluett
Walk through the streets of Kaunakakai at 10 p.m., and you’ll find them quiet and empty, except for maybe a cat or two padding through the shadows. Then cars begin pulling up beside a dimly lit alley. People emerge. They head down the alley and turn left into an even murkier passageway. At its end they approach a set of double red doors and pound on them.
A basement club? A den of iniquity? The comforting aroma of freshly baked bread suggests something altogether different. Approach the red doors yourself and someone stands ready to take your order for Molokai hot bread. You have a choice of toppings: jams, butter, cream cheese or cinnamon. Give the word, and the doors slam shut.
In a few minutes, they open again. Hand over $5.75—cash only—and in exchange, you are given a soft, warm, round loaf of bread oozing with toppings—a Moloka‘i tradition that’s been around since the days of statehood. True to Moloka‘i style, there are no flashing signs advertising this bread; the nightly clue to its existence is the steady procession of devotees making the pilgrimage for their fix. Aunty Blossom Poepoe, general manager of the Kanemitsu Bakery, makers of the hot bread, says the bakery sells an average of 100 loaves a night. On the weekends, that number occasionally tops 300.
“People tell me they come for the experience,” says Aunty Blossom. But she’s being humble about the famous delicacy itself. You’re guaranteed to rip a good dent in your loaf before you even reach the end of the passageway. Not to worry, though: A loaf of Kanemitsu’s hot bread is big enough for a midnight meal and then some.
How did the tradition get started? “There was no place for people to eat after the bars closed,” explains Aunty Blossom. Late-night revelers, felled by hunger pangs in a town with no restaurants open past 9, would knock on the bakery doors looking for food. The Kanemitsus, who were known for their hospitality, would often lend a helping loaf. “And so,” explains Aunty Blossom simply, “Mrs. Kanemitsu decided to sell bread.”