Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Elvin’s BakeryRestaurant Insider
November 6, 2022
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
ANNE LEE speaks with Elvin’s Bakery owner ELVIN LAU
It’s rare to see locally owned mom-and-pop establishments still thriving today.
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Elvin Lau opened Elvin’s Bakery at Kapalama Shopping Center back in 2003. He and his wife work 12–14-hour days, baking more than 400 pastries and 50 cakes a day, on top of their additional wholesale orders. A relatively new addition to the shop is a state-of-the art espresso/coffee machine that grinds fresh made-to-order coffee.
I met with Elvin and his wife as they shared their story and about what makes these cakes so special. With an Americano in hand, I got to try the Strawberry Shortcake. Each bite is light and fluffy, but packed with flavor, and the icing on the cake — made from scratch — is just right.
AL: How did you get into this industry?
EL: I was originally a photo finisher at Fujifilm but changed careers, as the film industry was slowly losing market share. Luckily, I was still in my early 20s, and I started with a local bakery in 1997. I learned how to make breads and pastries with some of the best bakers at that time. One of my best friends encouraged me to open up my own bakery and found this location in Kalihi. With their help and funding from family, my wife and I were able to make our dream a reality.
AL: What were the first items that were made at your bakery?
EL: What you see here today are the first items. What I found is that the clients’ palates were different based on what area of the island that they lived, even though we live on a small island. In 2007, we opened a second location in Kailua Shopping Center and through the years, it was easier with us to focus on one location and less of a headache. We were able to expand our operations in Kalihi and still see our Windward-side customers. Our two signature items are our Mango Mousse Cake and Strawberry Shortcake, which is our friend Richard Sakoda’s favorite. Our menu doesn’t really change, our customers like us to keep the same items on the menu.
AL: What are some of your bestsellers?
EL: I mentioned the Mango Mousse Cake and Strawberry Shortcake. One of our denser cakes is our Red Velvet Cake. Many red velvet cakes are premade, but ours are made from scratch using the best ingredients — our icing is even made from scratch. Our friend, who was a chef at Nordstrom Café at the time, asked us to make a red velvet cake. I wasn’t very familiar with it, but we made everything from scratch and put it together and it was a success.
All of our 8-inch cakes are $43, and a slice is $5.25. We also have quarter, half and full sheet cakes.
The baked goods that are popular are rolls with meat, such as our Portuguese Sausage Rolls ($3.15). Our popular Milk Roll comes in packs of six for $6.50. These are great for sandwiches — perfect to buy for your Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches. Our Raisin Bread ($5.95) is also a top seller, and our Sapporo Sweet Bread ($7.50) is a local favorite. Finally, our Blueberry Cream Cheese Scone ($4.15) is great paired with our freshly brewed coffee drinks.
For our full menu, go online to elvinsbakery.com.
AL: With the holidays around the corner, will you offer any special cakes?
EL: We used to make holiday cakes, but we found that our customers would buy their favorite cakes no matter what holiday. We do offer special order cakes, creating personalized cakes for any occasion, made with your favorite flavors and designs. Our popular cakes that are on our menu can also be personalized with a custom message.
AL: What was your breakthrough moment at the bakery?
EL: When Kimuraya Bakery closed in 2008, Ed Chang came in and asked for a couple of samples, such as dinner rolls that can be easily eaten on a plane. We started slowly and this helped us start our wholesale division.
You will be surprised to know that we make some of the baked goods that you eat, such as muffins at 7-Eleven Hawaii. We bake about 1,000 muffins a day.