Robert Taira, who as a teenager living in his native Hawaii developed King’s Hawaiian Sweet Bread, which is now marketed throughout the United States, died of cancer May 29 at Torrance Memorial Hospital. He was 79.
Taira, who had homes in Torrance and Honolulu, was living in Kohala, Hawaii, when he began thinking that after World War II, the Japanese would have a bigger demand for Western-style products.
“Clothing. They weren’t going to wear the kimono anymore. Or maybe jewelry. I thought I might enjoy that,” he told The Times in 2002.
Taira settled on opening a Western-style bakery in Tokyo, and went to schools in Hilo, Hawaii, and Chicago to learn how to bake.
When he couldn’t get a permit to go to Japan, he opened a storefront bakery in Hilo featuring a bread that he remembered from his childhood, which the Portuguese called pao doce. When he got the soft bread the way he wanted it, Taira decided to market it in a round shape to distinguish it from other breads.
After he moved his operation to King Street in Honolulu, Taira named the bread King’s Hawaiian Sweet Bread.
He expanded his operation to Torrance in 1977, and closed the Hawaiian bakery about 10 years ago.
In 1988, he opened a restaurant in Torrance -- King’s Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant -- and, later, a fast-food restaurant.
Taira is survived by his wife, Tsuneko; three sons, Mark -- who is chief executive of King’s Hawaiian -- Curtis and Vaughn; two daughters, Laurene Ho and Stella Miyamura; and 11 grandchildren.