Love’s Bakery, a staple of Hawaii’s food industry for nearly 170 years, announced Monday that it will end operations at the end of this month and lay off all 231 employees.
The company blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the closing, saying it was “seriously delinquent in rent and unable to qualify for the second round of PPP funding.”
“While we hoped that our business could continue under the circumstances, Love’s Bakery … has decided to close and cease all operations on March 31,” the company said in a notice to the state Department of Labor.
Love’s attorney Chuck Choi said the company lost more than 20% of its revenue in 2020 when sales from hotels, restaurants and other tourist-dependant outlets dried up.
The reality is that Hawaii’s oldest and largest commercial bakery was already in decline before the pandemic hit a year ago.
“Love’s was the dominant commercial bakery in Hawaii for generations,” Choi said. “But it was losing sales due to increased competition and inefficiencies at its plant, which had some antiquated equipment.”
According to the Department of Labor notice, regulations imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 led to the decline in sales.
“COVID-19 has also impacted many of our mainland suppliers causing delays in the ingredients and replacement parts for our aging bakery equipment,” the notice said.
“With the decline in revenue and the increasing expenses to keep the bakery running, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations as a faltering business,” it said.
The company did not file for bankruptcy, but will instead wind down over the next month while paying off its creditors, employees and taxing authorities.
An auction is being planned for April to sell the company’s machines and equipment, Choi said.
In a news release issued Monday, “the Love’s Bakery Management Team” is quoted this way:
“We have worked diligently to cut expenses, to maintain our market share and to remedy our operational difficulties, however under the current business environment we are no longer able to continue operations. Love’s local management is committed to closing its doors in a responsible manner. We wish to thank all of our employees, suppliers, customers, friends, neighbors, and business partners for their loyalty and support.”
The company will close not only its Kalihi plant, which towers over the H-1 freeway near the Middle Street merge, but its retail outlets in Kaneohe, Hilo, Kahului, Lihue and Kailua- Kona.
Love’s Biscuit & Bread Co. was founded in 1851 by a baker from Scotland named Robert Love, who opened business on Nuuanu Street.
The store originally specialized in “re-baking” bread from sailing ships that had become inedible and selling hard biscuits called hardtack. Following expansion over the years, the operation by 1932 focused on wholesale only.
Owned by the Love family until 1968, it was sold to ITT Continental Baking Co. before it was acquired by First Baking Co. of Japan in 1981.
In 2008 local management brought ownership back to Hawaii with plans to upgrade the company and solidify its future, according to news reports.
At the time, its bread brands included Love’s, Wonder Bread, Roman Meal, Milton’s and Home Pride, and its pastry brands were Hostess, Little Debbie, Svenhard’s Pastries, Weight Watchers and Mrs. Freshly’s.
With nearly 1,800 customer accounts, the company was distributing 400,000 loaves of bread per week.
Foodland spokeswoman Sheryl Toda said Monday that supermarket officials were disappointed to learn about Love’s impending closure and hoped to meet with the Love’s team to discuss next steps.
She added that Love’s products take up a significant portion of the shelf space in the supermarket’s bread and bakery section.
Tina Yamaki, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said she was sorry to see Love’s closing its doors, but she was not surprised.
“Unfortunately, it’s indicative of what’s happening to a lot of businesses due to the pandemic,” she said. “No business is safe. We’ve seen some iconic businesses —some 50, 70 and now over 100 years old — closing. It’s not just mainland brands; it’s local brands, too.”
Yamaki said most anyone from Hawaii has made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with bread baked by Love’s at one time or another.
“We all grew up with Love’s bread and Love’s products,” she said.