7.17.2009

Diamond Bakery: Making People Smile since 1921!











I was reading the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper recently about Honolulu-based Diamond Bakery and how they have started to sell their Saloon Pilot and original soda crackers in the Northeastern states of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts through a chain of stores called Hannaford. Apparently Saloon Pilot crackers are traditionally eaten with New England chowder in that area and there was a need for Hawaii’s crackers ever since Nabisco stopped making them in 2008. Very interesting…interesting that Diamond Bakery of Hawaii makes a cracker that is traditionally eaten by the people who live in the Northeast, the original states of USA.

As for me, I am a loyal fan of Diamond Bakery’s original soda cracker. If you have never tried it, you just have to. When I say loyal, I mean that Diamond Bakery’s cracker is the only one that I will buy. I admit that there are times when I buy water crackers (cracked pepper is my favorite) when I need to make some hors d'oeuvres. Those thin crackers are better for making pupu because it’s less filling. But besides that, the hardy and tasty Diamond Bakery soda crackers cannot be beat. Of course, this is strictly my opinion.

As I was researching Diamond Bakery for my blog article I realized that there is so much history and nostalgia in the 80 plus years that this company has been in existence. First of all, did you know that the founders of this company were three friends, Japanese immigrants who worked as a cook, maid and butler who dreamed of opening a bakery of their own? Hidegoro Murai, Kikutaro Hiruya and Natsu Muramoto saw a need for affordable baked goods. They experimented as often as they could to create perfect and affordable crackers that would be a hit with the local people in Hawaii. In 1921, with a loan from one of their employers, Mrs. McIntyre of Manoa, and all the money they had saved, they began their business of baking and selling soda crackers. They named their company Diamond Bakery after Hawaii’s most famous landmark, Diamond Head. It wasn’t easy but business picked up especially after they met master baker Sam Dunphy in 1927 who became the fourth partner in the business. Unfortunately, Murai had passed away unexpectedly never knowing how successful their company will become. It took another ten years for Diamond Bakery to master their recipes but by 1937 they had perfected the quality of their products which included Graham, Salty, Saloon Pilot, Royal Creem and Soda crackers. They also had Ruff ‘n Ready, Coconut, Candy Bead and Animal cookies. In 1970 the owners decided to hire executives out of their family circle to lead Diamond Bakery into the future. I guess it was a very wise decision because they currently employ over 100 employees and continue to expand their distributorship throughout the world.

I could conclude this blog right now and it would have been a very nice story. The story about three immigrants from Japan coming to Hawaii to earn a living, becoming friends because they all worked in domestic service for rich families, and dreaming about owning their own business is truly heartwarming. They went through countless hardships to perfect their products and then had the misfortune of one of the co-founders dying unexpectedly, not ever knowing how their dream turned out and never reaping the rewards of their success. Wow, a nice story with a happy result and more to come in the future!

But there’s another angle to this story. It’s about their ever popular Saloon Pilot crackers. Many folks in the local community have fond childhood memories about eating the crackers. Diamond Bakery organized a contest called “Search for the Ultimate Diamond” a few years ago so that people can share their memories about eating Saloon Pilot crackers, their family recipes and nostalgic stories. Diamond Bakery President Brent Kunimoto is quoted as saying, “Saloon Pilot crackers are such an important part of our local culture, and in many ways tell the history of Hawaii.” I missed out on these memories being a military brat and not growing up in Hawaii. Shucks. You can read some of the stories on their website www.diamondbakery.com. This got me wondering about what this Saloon Pilot cracker tastes like, why did the original founders of Diamond Bakery decide to bake them and why is it that the New Englanders like it so much. Well, I believe that I found my answers. First of all, they taste like an unleavened bread or biscuit. It’s even heartier than the soda crackers. I tried them with some cheese and tuna salad. It was onolicious. Sweeter toppings like peanut butter hit the spot too.

So how did the Diamond Bakery founders come about baking these Saloon Pilot crackers? The three friends needed to make a product that would serve as a solid foundation to their business, something tasty and reasonable. They decided on “sea biscuits” aka “pilot crackers” (ration for bush pilots) and used a recipe from seamen who traveled to the islands from Maine. These large, round and hard sea biscuits were originally introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by the traders, whalers and missionaries who ate them as a staple during their long journeys from New England to Hawaii. These crackers were great for long sea voyages because they didn’t break easily and had a long shelf life. So that is how Diamond Bakery’s Saloon Pilot crackers became a typical snack for the people of Hawaii through the years.

On the other side of the ocean in the New England states these crackers were first introduced by the British sailors as “hard tack” in the late 1700’s. “Tack” was a slang used by British sailors for “food.” The New Englanders had to have these pilot crackers when eating their clam chowder. They were also used to thicken their soups and stews and to make stuffing. So when Nabisco decided to stop making these crackers in 2008 it was only inevitable for Diamond Bakery’s Saloon Pilot crackers to make its way back to New England. Full circle! Isn’t that wonderful? So now, after almost 90 years of making Hawaii folks smile, Diamond Bakery is making more people smile all over the world! Lucky we live in Hawaii, you can buy their crackers at most supermarkets and at Long's.

P.S. There’s another cultural angle to this story. If you look back into the history of the people of Canada, Alaska, Japan, China and Korea, they have similar crackers that were used during times of war and other hardships. A little bit of trivia...it is known as “kanpan” in Japan which literally means “dry bread.”

Honolulu Festival

Diamond Bakery

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been looking for a cracker-
not salty-not sweet and crispy.
I found that for the first time
in skyflakes crackers. You should
try this cracker and make yours
like this.