2007 SmallBiz Success Awards

2007 SmallBiz Success Awards

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What do an international special events planner, a 91-year-old ukulele manufacturer and an expanding Italian restaurant chain owned by Southeast Asian immigrants have in common? They are all successful small businesses and honorees in the inaugural SB Success Awards.

Starting in early 2006, we asked our readers to tell us about companies, with 100 full-time employees or less, of notable achievement. Success can be measured many ways, including rapid sales growth, longevity, overcoming adversity, a dramatic turnaround or offering a unique service or product.

Hawaii has many outstanding small businesses with exciting stories to tell. Our panel of three judges narrowed down 59 nominations to 10 awardees and 12 honorable mentions. The stories of our top 10 run on the following pages. No matter what your company’s size, there is much to learn from these models of grit, determination, insight and innovation.

Congratulations to the SB Success Award winners. You are a source of inspiration.


David Miller

Architects Hawaii Ltd. president and CEO David Miller credits the company’s founder for positioning it for success. Back in 1946, Cyril Lemmon decided the company “would grow with the state as a regional practice,” Miller says. To do so, the company- selected five markets — hospitality, healthcare, residential, retail and government — rather than a more narrow focus.

“As the economy changes, we can respond,” Miller says. “For example, as housing is up, we are able to get those projects.”

Architects Hawaii, which does planning and interior design as well as architecture, has continued to grow during its 60 years in Hawaii by building on its cross-market knowledge base, garnering more than 100 industry awards in the process. In 2005 and 2006, the company achieved $25 million in gross sales.

The multimarket emphasis also enables Architects Hawaii to cultivate a mix of people with different skills and expertise. “So we have a level of technical knowledge that enables us to handle complex projects in a capable way,” says Miller.

One example is the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kakaako — a project that drew on Architects Hawaii’s experience in healthcare and government development.

-Jolyn Okimoto Rosa


Siri Ky

In perfect rags-to-riches fashion, Thomas and Siri Ky have advanced from impoverished immigrants from Vietnam and Laos, respectively, with no knowledge of the English language and culture, to successful restaurateurs with a home in Waialae Iki complete with an ocean view.

The couple is the driving force behind the Assaggio restaurant chain, which employs almost 200, and boasts locations in Ala Moana, Hawaii Kai, Mililani and Kailua — the original location that opened its doors in 1991. Assaggio has gained popularity over the years and customers keep coming back for hearty portions of fine Italian food, served in a friendly environment at reasonable prices.

“We work from the heart,” Siri says. “When people come, they feel at home.”

With the high risk involved in opening a restaurant — about 60 percent fail to stay in business — the pair opened each eatery without financing from banks. Rather, they brought in family and friends as investors, which bolstered their incentive to succeed.

“I came here with zero,” Siri says. “I tell my workers, ‘Be like me, the main thing is that you work hard.’”

-Kyle Galdeira


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