The Hawaii Business 20 for the Next 20
(page 8 of 21)
Photo: Courtesy of Charles Hew-Len
Charles Hew-Len, age 38
Managing partner, Legacy Real Estate Investments and Big Papa’s Pizza
As an 8-year-old growing up in a Waianae housing project, Charles Hew-Len was already an entrepreneur. Each morning, he’d cook teriyaki meat sticks or make sandwiches to sell to classmates to earn money.
Later, Hew-Len launched a small maintenance company, founded a local record label and ran a nightclub. But his life had a dark side. In 2001, he was arrested by the FBI for being part of a drug ring importing crystal meth to the Islands.
He realized in prison that he needed to turn his life around, so he signed up for college classes and learned about the real estate business. By the time he was released in 2007, he was just a few credits short of graduating.
His turnaround has helped make him a popular speaker, helping at-risk teens avoid similar disasters. “I tell them I was down and out at the bottom, losing everything. These kids see the glamour of (selling) drugs and I can actually share that experience and tell them what it is really like.”
He also serves as chair of the Kaala District for the Aloha Council, Boy Scouts of America, and is working with other volunteers to convert a broken-down courtyard into a garden at the women’s prison in Kailua. Warden Mark Patterson says the garden will make a huge difference to inmates, who today have no appealing place to gather.
After leaving prison, Hew-Len and his chef-partner bought Big Papa’s, a failing Texas pizza restaurant, at distressed pricing. Today, with profits soaring, there’s a second location and a franchise deal brewing.
Last year, Hew-Len launched his own real estate firm. His first deal was to purchase his childhood home from his parents and convert it into a rental property. His 91-year-old father and 61-year-old mother moved in with Hew-Len and his family in Makakilo.
Hew-Len also began something called the Fresh Start Housing Program, which subsidizes rent deposits so struggling families can move into better housing.
“The more I succeed, the more I want to give.”
1. Randy Baldemor
2. James Bennett
3. Kalei Cadinha-Puaa
4. Kainoa Daines
5. Matthew Delaney
6. Mark Duda
7. Charles Hew-Len
8. Michael Kaleikini
9. Daniel Leuck
10. Jennifer Li Dotson
11. Bryan Luke
12. Wesley Machida
13. Makani Maeva
14. Cameron Nekota
15. Robert Piper
16. Carol Reimann
17. Claire Sullivan
18. Michael Tresler
19. Raymond Vara, Jr.
20. Aulani Wilhelm
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