A Local Bake Shop is in it for the Long Haul

Cover Story Features

August 24, 2014

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

The “M word” strikes again. Moderation: The avoidance of extremes. For a food enthusiast who wants to eat anything and everything, is that the answer to all of life’s daunting questions? If so, then that pesky “M word” is easier said than done, especially if your sweet tooth is a feisty one.

And this is why cupcakes are such a big deal! These once versatile, tasty treats made from boxed cake mix and distributed to classmates on birthdays now have morphed into trendy, chic confections that grant a few bites of indulgent bliss.

What Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is to chocolate lovers, Hokulani Bake Shop is to cupcake connoisseurs.

“Real butter, real sugar, real calories! We keep it real,” says owner Tushar Dubey with a laugh.

With close to 20 cupcake flavors on the menu, from classic vanilla to sophisticated port wine (Guittard chocolate cupcake infused with sweet port wine and topped with buttercream frosting, port drizzle and a hint of Maraschino cherries), Hokulani has received national praise (does a first-place win on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars ring a bell?) and has garnered a slew of awards locally.

Having absolutely no culinary experience, Tushar and wife Ana relied solely on a shared love for cupcakes.

Rewind to 2002, Tushar, who then was living and working in New York City, did not expect that one cupcake from Buttercup Bake Shop on 2nd Avenue would change his world forever.

“That was my first ‘authentic’ cupcake experience. I had never been to a shop that specifically specialized in cupcakes,” Tushar recalls. “At that moment, I was hooked. I knew right then and there that Hawaii needed a place like this. I also went to a cupcake shop in Chelsea and I tried the cupcakes there. It was like I found heaven.”

It was in the Big Apple where Tushar would meet his future bride, Colombia-native Ana. Ana quickly learned of Tushar’s passion for cupcakes, and soon became an integral part of this dream in the making. The couple relocated to the Islands, and in 2005, they tied the knot and opened the doors to the original Hokulani Bake Shop at Waterfront Plaza (additional locations now include Windward Mall, Pearlridge Center and Hyatt Regency Waikiki).

“We didn’t sell cupcakes until about a year after opening. We knew our ultimate goal was cupcakes, but having no prior culinary knowledge, we had to start small. We began with cookies,” Tushar explains.

“It was literally trial and error — but mostly error,” Ana adds. “Practice makes perfect, and we had to learn how to make one product at a time.”

When it finally came time for cupcakes, Ana devoted more than 12 hours a day to the kitchen, honing her craft. Tushar stayed business-oriented, working out the kinks in marketing the brand.

As a vegetarian, Tushar always was curious about ingredients. Both he and Ana are self-proclaimed sticklers for fresh products and clean ingredients, so hydrogenated oil, preservatives and artificial flavorings (besides food coloring) is to commit a major faux pas.

“We bake everything fresh daily. And there’s nothing better than butter. I think the 2,000 pounds of butter that we use in a month’s time attests to that.”

Hokulani’s House Flavored Cupcakes ($2.50-$3.25 each) have earned their outstanding reputation throughout the years, including best-sellers Red Velvet with Cream Cheese Frosting, Lilikoi with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting and Strawberry Guava with Cream Cheese Frosting. The bake shop’s avid fans also keep up with the seasonal flavored cupcakes ($3.50 each). Currently, Mango with Cream Cheese Frosting, and Peach with Swirled Cinnamon and Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting take the limelight.

For the best cupcake selection, Tushar recommends customers arrive early, as most flavors sell out by end of day. Hand-decorated Sugar Cookies ($4 each) and an assortment of brownies also line the shelves — Matcha White Chocolate Brownie ($3) is the newest addition.

Hungry for the latest on the bakery, Dining Out received word that Hokulani will widen its reach with a new baking facility slated to open this November in Kalihi.

“We’re expanding into a manufacturing company. Our goal is to offer a wider variety of products and packaging,” Tushar explains. “We’ll be able to package individual products, such as petite French cakes.

“We hope to partner with local hotels and corporations. We will have the capability to customize our products and offer custom labeling.”

Tushar says Hokulani will be selective when choosing wholesale accounts, but only to follow through on the promise to deliver 100 percent-quality products.

“While the company grows, our high standards never will change.”

Hokulani is emerging as what some may call a cupcake empire, but Tushar and Ana are reluctant to agree.

“Hokulani is not the ‘king of cupcakes,’ it’s just a local bake shop, and we’re looking ahead to the future,” Tushar humbly states.

So, what’s in the works for Hokulani? “Local, local, local. Expect the implementation of Kula lavender, Naked Cow Dairy butter and Waialua chocolate to our products.”

Hokulani Bake Shop is a firm believer that “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy cupcakes … that’s kind of the same thing.”

Hokulani Bake Shop

500 Ala Moana Blvd. Ste. 4B
(additional locations at Windward Mall, Hyatt Regency Waikiki and Pearlridge Center)
Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Waterfront Plaza, Honolulu, HI 96813

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best