Teriyaki sauce maker stays true to Hawaiian heritage
George Kapahee calls himself an “ordinary guy,” a former banker who stumbled across a tasty and potentially profitable idea.
The native Hawaiian never had any formal food cooking experience. Yet he grew up in Maui and mastered the art of making and preparing teriyaki sauce by watching his family whip up authentic recipes. Today he calls his Mr. G’s Hawaii-style Pineapple Plum Teriyaki brand, “No Ka Oi,” meaning the best.
Kapahee developed a plan to bottle and market his teriyaki sauce less than two years ago. The idea began when he and his wife invited friends to their house for barbecues.
“They would ask me for the recipe,” Kapahee says. “At first I couldn’t remember. I had this big jug in the ice box filled with everything. I’d say, ‘What do I want to put into it this time?’ At our home in Hawaii we had fruits all over our yard such as mangoes, papayas, coconuts, avocados and banana trees. My mom and my aunt were terrific cooks. My dad also made a real good sauce. I missed those flavors when I moved to Nevada, so I incorporated all of the flavors together to come up with my own signature sauce.”
He recalls how teriyaki sauce was such a Hawaiian tradition while dining with his family. He used it regularly on beef, ham, pork, fish and chicken.
Kapahee says he couldn’t mimic the exact way his mother and aunt made it so he mixed bits and pieces of fruits from their original recipe to form a fruit base. He focused on plumbs and pineapples. He balanced the sauce so it wasn’t too salty or too sweet. During the process, he remembered what his parents told him: “Go for the taste.”
Next he found a distributing company in northern California to produce and bottle his sauce.
Kapahee admits there’s a lot of competition for teriyaki sauce but he says his recipe allows him to carve out a niche.
“My teriyaki sauce is fruit-based which nobody else is doing,” he says. He adds that most teriyaki sauces are made from soy sauce and sugar. Also, he says consumers are misled when buying teriyaki sauces.
“Most brands sold with Hawaiian names and labels in stores are not even made and produced by someone from Hawaii,” he says. “Ours is a genuine Hawaiian-based product that’s the key thing.”
Kapahee says his goal is to sell a complete variety of his own teriyaki and rib sauces, and possibly his own brand of Maui seasoning salt.
For now, Kapahee and his wife are busy marketing their product online and at a handful of special events such as the annual rib cook off and the Italian Festival. They also sell their sauce at farmer’s market locations and specialty retailers such as the Nevada Store. Recently they’ve filed an application to sell the sauce at Whole Foods.
But in spite of all the raves the businessman still faces headwinds; the biggest he says is trying to market to retail and grocery stores. He says getting retailers hooked on his sauce is crucial if he wants his teriyaki business to grow. Because it’s a small start-up company product with little exposure, Kapahee also sells a variety of private label brand teriyaki products from his distributor. This helps draw attention to his sauce, as well as minimize shipping costs. Another major challenge he says is production costs: The ingredients costs less than half of the cost of the bottle.
“As volume increases our profits will go up,” says Kapahee. “Right now we’re not at the point of making a profit. Our minimum order is 100 cases. One day we hope to get to ten thousand cases nationwide. We have a ways to go but our mission is to run a family based business and remain true to the Hawaiian heritage.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak made it clear Wednesday night his latest directive urging as many Nevadans as can to stay home is not martial law but a plea for everyone not in a critical, essential industry to not go out and possibly spread the coronavirus.