Hardworking Hawaii: Aloha Tofu sees drop in Aburaage sales due to pandemic

Hardworking Hawaii

HONOLULU (KHON2) — All different types of businesses have been impacted by COVID-19, including a long-time local tofu factory. But unlike restaurants, the pandemic has impacted specific products differently.

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Paul Uyehara is the third-generation owner of Aloha Tofu. The family-owned business has been providing Hawaii with ono specialty items since 1950.

“My grandmother, this was when I was very young, she would be working on the Aburaage machine, and when the Aburaage would come out of the machine, it was fresh and hot,” Uyehara said, reflecting on some of his favorite memories. “She would rip off a piece of the corner and pour shoyu inside,” he added. “So it was kind of crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and you get the shoyu flavor.”

Uyehara’s grandfather knew the founders of Times Supermarkets. Aloha Tofu started to take off thanks to that friendship.

“With a supermarket, if you can take the tofu to the supermarket, the customers come to you, and that’s a game-changer,” Uyehara said about how the family business grew.

As grocery stores expanded, so did the wholesaler. To this day it is still the supermarkets that have helped Aloha Tofu survive the pandemic.

“As the restaurants kind of went down, the supermarkets went up a little bit in terms of business,” Uyehara said.

Business during the pandemic has still been tough. Restaurants and catering companies stopped ordering like they used to.

The lack of gatherings has also had a huge impact on one of Aloha Tofu’s most popular items.

“We make Aburaage, which is the skin for the cone sushi, and that was a huge drop as well, about 40% it dropped,” he said.

That type of sushi is common in party platters.

Aloha Tofu depends on the Aburaage sales particularly during graduation season and the holidays.

“No family get togethers, no business get togethers, you know just everything, and it just has a cumulative effect on [us],” Uyehara said. “The first three weeks of December we’re just really really bad.”

Uyehara said, that is why shopping local whenever possible is so important.

“Certainly, we’ve been feeling it. We feel it every day, and I just think that, you know, we have an opportunity now to remember that we’re all in this together,” Uyehara said.

One product that has done well during the pandemic is their deep fried tofu.

Uyehara said, a lot of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants order from them and he believes their businesses may not have been as impacted by COVID since those restaurants were already doing a lot of take-out pre-pandemic.

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