How King's Hawaiian Rolls Grew From A Local Favorite To An Iconic Staple

The sweet, rich history of King's Hawaiian rolls stretches from the islands to the mainland and far beyond. In fact, although the original bakery for what is now known as King's Hawaiian was started in Hilo, Hawaii, the idea for the sweet rolls was inspired by similar pastries hailing from Portugal known as "pao doce" or "massa sovada". Portuguese sweet bread gained popularity in Hawaii following an influx of Portuguese immigrants in the late 1800s. With the substitution of honey and pineapple juice in place of sugar as a sweetener, the rolls became a local hit, combining the readily available tastes of the island with a recipe that recalled the tastes of home. The one problem was the limited lifespan of the delicious bread.

Japanese-American Robert Taira, having determined a method for creating a more shelf-stable version of this sweet bread, opened Robert's Bakery in Hilo in 1950, less than a decade before Hawaii became part of the United States. After moving the bakery to King street in Honolulu in 1963, Taira changed the name of the company to King's Bakery in reference to its new location. The popularity of the sweet rolls skyrocketed locally and became a popular take-home souvenir tourists brought back to the mainland. Inspired by this, Taira brought King's bakery to Torrance, California in 1977, changing the name once more to King's Hawaiian.

King's Hawaiian present and future

Though founder Robert Taira passed away in May of 2003, the business still endures and shows no signs of slowing down. Through the early to mid 2000s, King's Hawaiian facilities expanded at a rapid pace, reaching all the way to the opposite coast in 2011 with the opening of a 111,000 square foot bakery and distribution center in Georgia. King's Hawaiian celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2020 and the brand's innovative marketing campaigns and new product offerings — including loaves of sliced bread, burger buns, sauces, apparel, and so much more — have brought an all-new level of ubiquity.

There has been no shortage of creative cooperation within King's Hawaiian's marketing efforts. For example, partnering with Arby's in 2013 on a King's-specific roast beef sandwich brought two giants together in the popular consciousness. In 2022, King's offered a pre-Thanksgiving meal to Amtrak travelers making their way home for the holidays. Just this year, King's Hawaiian has teamed up with NASCAR and Universal Pictures' Despicable Me for a campaign including a branded race car and Minions-inspired pit crew uniforms. And while it's not an official collaboration, King's Hawaiian rolls are the ideal roll for sliders featuring another island favorite — Spam.  This sweet bread with a charming backstory and fan-favorite flavor is part of a long and delicious legacy that will be rolling along for years to come.