From the moment you walk in the door, the aloha vibes are strong at King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant in Torrance. Mochi doughnuts, rainbow-hued paradise cakes and more variations of the international company's signature bread than one could dream of grace the bakery section at the entrance. A giant pineapple statue welcomes patrons to the cavernous dining room, where servers in Hawaiian shirts navigate around a floor-to-ceiling tropical aquarium to serve island staples like loco moco and spam musubi, plus French toast made with King's Hawaiian sweet rolls.
Though the headquarters of King's Hawaiian moved from Honolulu to the mainland—and more precisely, Torrance, home to a large population of Hawaii transplants—in 1988, seemingly few Angelenos are aware that the grocery store bread company calls greater Los Angeles home. A factory near the 405 in Torrance makes much of the packaged baked goods available in SoCal, while a second facility in Georgia also produces a few distinctive items and other baked goods, primarily for the East Coast. Outside of the South Bay, even fewer seem to be aware that the iconic supermarket brand has two L.A.-area restaurants: the full-service Torrance flagship and its fast-casual sibling, the Local Place, in nearby Gardena.
Both eateries have become mainstays for South Bay residents in search of a casual everyday meal, as well as former islanders looking for a taste of home. The restaurant's retail manager Steve Kane, a Hawaii transplant himself, says he can always tell when diners are from Hawaii: "Because we call it King's Bakery, not King's Hawaiian," he adds, alluding to the bakery's outpost on King Street in Honolulu, which Robert Taira started in the early 1960s. The company history of running a restaurant dates back to that era, when the founder's aunt first opened a small café counterpart.
Still run by the Taira family today, albeit with a new generation in corporate roles, the 34-year-old Torrance eatery, along with its Gardena counterpart, are part of how the supermarket giant keeps the spirit of ohana alive. Over the years, the restaurant has become an important part of the local community: hiring students from nearby Torrance and North High Schools, acting as a gathering spot for South Bay families during the holidays and serving as a special occasion dessert go-to for their paradise cake—a tropical derivative of the Asian fruit cream cake infused and topped with guava, passion fruit and lime.
The former's exterior also possesses a blend of idiosyncratic architecture dating back to the 1970s, including a curved cone roof, two chimneys and elaborate colonial-style brickwork—design elements that the company agreed to keep intact when it first signed a commercial lease in 1988. Previously, according to Los Angeles Times archives, the unique-looking building housed a steakhouse and nightclub named Ichabod Crane's—a sharp deviation from the family-oriented bakery and restaurant it is today.
The aquarium and pineapple inside, however, are the work of King's Hawaiian, according to Courtney Taira, the company's retail president and Robert’s granddaughter. The family, especially her dad, King's CEO Mark Taira, is passionate about fish and water, so you'll find aquariums at their corporate office as well as both the Local Place and the Torrance restaurant. "Of course, the kids love to come and see the fish," Taira adds. The giant pineapple is a beloved photo-op as well.
Both King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant and the Local Place are among the few places you can reliably find the family's original product: the cake-sized sweet round bread that Robert first began selling in 1950s Hilo. It's a softer, more shelf-stable version of the Portuguese-derived Hawaiian bread once called "stone bread" for its ability to turn rock-hard within days. Today, the rounds are used to make French toast at both eateries, even as the brand's dinner rolls have overtaken the family-sized original in supermarket popularity.
With its affordable menu prices, family-friendly atmosphere and delicious baked goods, this longtime Torrance eatery has cultivated a solid base of patrons over the decades, particularly during weekend breakfast and brunch hours. Where else in L.A., really, can you get scrambled eggs and pancakes with a side of dinner rolls to take home and a photo-op with a gigantic pineapple?
King's Hawaiian Bakery and Restaurant: 2808 Sepulveda Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505. Daily 7am–9pm.
The Local Place Bakery & Cafe. 18605 Western Ave, Gardena, CA 90248. Daily 7am–8pm.