KILAUEA — Books.
Not pizza. Not baked goods.
That’s what Tom and Katie Pickett want to talk about as they sit outside of their business, Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza, on a sunny weekday afternoon.
While customers sip coffee, chew on bagels and cruise the Internet courtesy of the local Wi-Fi access, the Picketts point to the cart filled with hardbacks and paperbacks that stands near the front steps of their popular shop.
“This is our favorite,” Tom said.
Tom and manager Derek Gandia built a fundraising program with used books and helped duplicate it for the Hanalei School PTSA and the volunteer group, Friends of the North Shore Library.
With donations from Helen Mitsui and the Share Blessings thrift store as well as book donations from parents, Rotarians and the community at large, Tom and Derek stock their bookshelf each morning. Books sell slowly but surely for $2 each.
The book funds are in turn donated to Kilauea Elementary School.
Boy, does it add up. Try $13,000 or so for a reading program.
“This thing generates about $20 a day, 365 days a year, and all we have to do is put books on it,” Tom said.
Which itself goes well with another lesson for students of Kilauea, who learn young all about fundraising to support extracurricular activities. Tom invites any organization to call for help in setting up a similar program.
Robert Dickstein, Hanalei Bay Rotary Club member, said it does something even more than raise money.
“It inspires children to succeed,” he said.
And it’s one of the reasons the club recently honored Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza as its North Shore Employer of the Year.
“The business has been successful in part because Tom and Katie have had the support of not just tourists driving by on their way to the Lighthouse, but the Kilauea community itself,” Dickstein said during the award presentation.
Tom and Katie Pickett were pleased.
“It’s a wonderful honor,” he said.
Dickstein praised the leadership at their business and their employees, plus the community, too.
The Picketts lead where needed, such as Tom coordinating the Kilauea parade to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Lighthouse, or Katie volunteering at Kilauea’s Na aina Kai Botanical gardens or serving for years on the Kilauea Point Natural History Association.
They have inspired, tutored, cleaned, cheered and given much of themselves, Dickstein said.
“It’s mainly what they contribute outside of running the business,” he said.
The Picketts have operated Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza for 22 years, opening in 1991 with an investment of $18,000.
In those early days, as strictly a bakery, Tom went to work by 3 a.m. and did the baking while their one employ manned the front counter. At noon, Katie would hand over the kids to Tom and run the shop until 4 p.m., when they closed.
Later, they extended hours and added pizzas to the menu.
Hurricane Iniki forced them to close for three months, but they survived.
Bill Troutman, owner and operator of North Shore Solid Surface Countertops in Kilauea, praised the Picketts for their “personal moral strength and courage of character.”
“Wherever Kilauea has a need, Tom and Katie have been there,” he said.
Troutman said the Picketts contribute in many ways to the community, far beyond what could be expected.
“I have watched from the outside and the inside of how Tom and Katie do business, and they are the example of how a business should be run,” he said.
Their bakery is the best, lunches fantastic and pizza, perfect. Employees are treated well.
“I have had the honor of dealing with Tom in business, and have watched and learned while he grew Kilauea Bakery from a small plantation shack to the awesomely successfully business it is today,” Troutman said.
Today, the Picketts employ 35 and their business is a hub of activity. Locals and visitors come and go, perusing books, playing chess, checking Facebook on their laptops, or just enjoying a latte and bagel.
Tom, who has worked in the food industry since he was a teenager and attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, handles the operational side, while Katie manages the business side. The Picketts have called Kilauea home for 30 years. Their two daughters went through school there.
Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza has, for 15 years, given coupons to Kilauea Elementary Student of the Week winners, redeemable for a free slice of pizza or a cookie.
Both Tom and Katie are pleased when excited keiki charge in waving their coupon, often yelling, “I won Student of the Week.”
They’re constantly donating pizza and baked goods to fundraisers, Dickstein said.
“This kind of program goes a long way in helping the behavior of children,” he said.
Dickstein smiled as he recounted a story about Tom’s early baking days on Kauai.
There was a cookie contest for JoAnn Yukimura’s mayoral campaign. Tom won first place for his “Momi St. chocolate chip cookie,” which is still a staple at the bakery.
“That cookie influenced the election of a mayor,” Dickstein said, laughing.
It’s really just all about giving back, say the Picketts.
“It’s nice to be able to live in the town where you work and your children grow up,” Katie said. “It’s a family business. We just love this community. They’ve been good to us, so we try to give back to the community.”
“It just makes sense,” she added.
“We aren’t just working for ourselves. The bakery become a cog in the community,” he said. “It’s a wonderful chance to hire all of your friends’ kids, give a lot of the town’s kids their first jobs. It’s special to experience that.”