Keaau Filipino Food Store Offers Specialty Products and Freshly Made Desserts

2023 SmallBiz Editor’s Choice Award winner: Maria Tereza Gacula and Mitchell Gacula expand the small-town grocery started by their parents in Puna.
05 23 Hb Best Of Small Business Hero 09 Keaau Filipino Food Store
Photo: Keaton Kamakaiwi

Small-town grocery stores are vital for communities: Along with selling food, they help neighbors stay connected.

Keaau Filipino Food Store is a prime example. Since 1980, the family-run business has been serving the diverse small town of Kea‘au, just south of Hilo.

Husband and wife Jessie and Helen Gacula started the business in what was then called old Ōla‘a town, as a small store in the corner of a barbershop near the bank, firehouse and police station.

Now run by daughter Maria Tereza and son Mitchell, the family recently expanded the operation into a space that is twice its original size.

“Back in the day, my dad used part of the building as a billiards hall. It used to be this cozy place surrounded by the plantation camps,” says Maria Tereza Gacula. Her mom managed the store while her father managed other businesses.

Mitchell Gacula kept the store’s shelves stocked during the pandemic, his sister says, by keeping close ties with vendors and searching out new ones.

“We have a lot more suppliers than we used to,” Maria Tereza Gacula says. “During Covid we also had a lot more items on our shelves than nearby stores. We really grew during that time.”

They’ve also added a small commercial kitchen and the store is offering freshly made traditional Filipino desserts. Maria Tereza Gacula, like many of her generation, says she’s just now learning how to make traditional Filipino dishes.

“Last year, I started working in the store not knowing what all of the items were, or what ingredients went into traditional Filipino dishes. Now we are sharing those recipes on social media with our customers.”

The store’s Facebook page also alerts customers to contests, new items and old favorites back in stock.