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Entrepreneurs After Age 50

Here are two individuals and a couple who retired from one career only to launch another

(page 2 of 4)

“Bright” Future for Makiki Bake Shop

Charlie Bright didn’t know anything about baking when he bought the Makiki Bake Shop in 2011.

Photo: Lee Ann Bowman

On an August Sunday in 2011, a friend read aloud a Lee Cataluna column from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser as Charlie Bright listened. The venerable Makiki Bake Shop would go out of business soon if no one bought it.

The article made clear that, although there were some walk-in customers, most of the shop’s cakes, jellyrolls and biscuits were wholesaled to other stores.

Charlie wasn’t going to make a decision that Sunday, but one minute after midnight on Monday he announced his intention to buy the small bakery on Young Street.

Not that he knew anything about baking. He didn’t and doesn’t. But he wanted to start a business. A year earlier he had attended a class in entrepreneurship at Kapiolani Community College and created a business plan (something to do with electric cars), but it didn’t materialize. This bakery was his chance.

Once he met the bakery crew, he knew he wanted to retain every one of them. Financing, check; desire, check; staff, incredible!

Let’s back up a bit. Charlie Kamehaokalani Bright, ninth of 10 siblings who grew up in Nanakuli, was always resourceful. By the time he was 16, he was hired as a mechanic’s helper at a local service station. After graduating from Waianae High School in 1970, he took classes at Leeward Community College while working full time at another Nanakuli service station. In 1971, he joined the Army and was trained as a heavy equipment mechanic. After his discharge from the Army, he joined the Honolulu Police Department in October 1974 as a mechanic.

Two years later, the Honolulu Fire Department hired him as a heavy equipment mechanic with expertise in diesel-engine troubleshooting and mechanics. The older maintenance workers iced him out because he acted like a young hotshot; he taunted them right back by learning every aspect of aerial and fire-pump repairs. He later became supervisor of HFD maintenance and, in 1992, was promoted to fire equipment superintendent.

Besides being able to fix things, Charlie always had a way of making money work for him. In 1983, he had bought a “fixer-upper” house in Kaneohe and then a second house in Ewa Beach. On the same property he built a rental house. Later, he bought his own plane and, briefly, spotted akule for some Kona fishermen.

When he retired from HFD in 2007, he spent the next two years renovating eight homes – for friends, people who couldn’t afford to do it or didn’t have the skills. He did it free with one caveat: When he finished, they would each help him help someone else.

As for the Makiki Bake Shop purchase, it wasn’t philanthropy. He set a goal of doubling his investment in one year. The shop fell just short of that, but still made a good profit, he says.

Longtime employee Carol Tamada – he calls her “Grandma” – teases the 60-year-old entrepreneur that he doesn’t like sweets.

“It’s a lie,” he says, winking at her. “She just tries to make me taste everything.”

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