New Chip Makers
Hilo’s Atebara Company Under
by Alan Schnepf
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, November 23, 2006 11:08 AM HST
After 70 years of business, Hilo’s own potato chip company is undergoing a revitalization of sorts.
Fans of Atebara brand chips need not worry. The potato chips and taro chips the company has made since 1936 aren’t going away. The newest owners of the company have reintroduced purple sweet potato chips and shrimp chips. Hawaii Island Gourmet Products, which owns Atebara, also has developed its own line of chocolates that actually have lilikoi and the taro and potato chips inside.
The ideas come from Nimr Tamimi and Clyde Oshiro, who bought the company in 2002 from Walter Atebara, the son of company founder Raymond Atebara.
Oshiro, an accountant who is Tamimi’s father-in-law, had heard that the younger Atebara planned on shuttering the small chip factory on Manono Street. Tamimi remembered eating the chips as a boy and did not like the idea of something uniquely Hilo disappearing. They put together a deal to buy the business.
“That’s what the big thing was, we were worried about losing another part of Hilo’s identity,” said Tamimi, who co-owns an engineering firm. “It’s not a glorious or lucrative business. It’s very, very difficult.”
When the pair took over the company, Atebara was only producing potato chips and taro chips. The taro chips, incidentally, were born in World War II when potatoes were in scarce supply.
Since taking over the company, Oshiro and Tamimi have decided to use as much locally grown produce as possible. The sweet potato and taro chips are made from plants grown on the Big Island. The lilikoi in the chocolates is local, too. The new gingersnap cookies contain ginger grown here as well.
For that matter, Hawaii Island Gourmet Products now leases land from Kamehameha Schools for growing dryland Chinese taro. They needed a dependable source so they don’t hit production snags.
“We needed to make sure we had a steady supply,” Tamimi explained. “Without it, we couldn’t go ahead and market it.”
Oshiro and Tamimi also have introduced new packaging. The old bags, as Tamimi put it, “looked like they were from the ’50s. The products made with local crops will be sold under the “Hawaiian Island” moniker. The potato and shrimp chips, which are made with goods brought in from outside Hawaii, will still be sold under the Atebara name. The old packaging will still be used for chips sold in fundraising efforts.
Four years into the business, the partners say the money still isn’t pouring in, but they do see some growth. Their product is much more widely available than when they took over the company. They make gift baskets. A Web site is under construction at hawaiiislandsnacks.com. And they have a retail space in their chip factory at 717 Manono St. Their sales to hotels have expanded and they have a kiosk space in Prince Kuhio Plaza through Christmas.
As the company continues to emerge, Oshiro says he sees the pieces of a model coming together that could support Big Island agriculture. He said there are not many “value-added” products from the Big Island, in which someone takes a locally grown product and then adds value by making it something else — like taro chips.
“This is diversified agriculture as it was intended to be,” Oshiro said.
Hawaii Island Gourmet – Hawaiian Snacks – Handmade in Hawaii Since 1936
717 Manono St. Hilo, HI 96720 – (808)969-9600