Images by Meagan Suzuki
Don’t be fooled by the dilapidated exterior of Taro Ko Factory in Hanapēpē Town; it’s what’s inside that counts. Although this quaint former plantation home has seen better days, the true beauty of this abode is that it’s a cache for arguably the tastiest homemade taro chips in town.
The company’s sole proprietor, Dale Nagamine, took over the family business years ago after his parents passed away. On any given day, he’s likely to be found frying thinly sliced taro, which he grows on his family’s farm just a short distance away, in a large wok bristling with soybean oil. Don’t expect much interaction from the shy and humble Nagamine; that’s what his good-humored friend Stanley Sakoda is there for. More than happy to chat with customers and sell them a bag of chips, Sakoda brightens up the drab interior. He’ll tell you that every bag is ‘ono, and that you can’t go wrong whether you choose the taro, Japanese sweet potato, or regular potato chip varieties – each perfectly crisped, dusted with garlic salt, and nestled in bags within a cardboard box, waiting to be devoured. The gregarious Sakoda will also suggest the chips sprinkled with li hing mui seasoning, which makes them taste like barbecue. It’s a tough decision, but at about $5 a pop, a good option is to purchase one of each—if they’re not already sold out, that is.
In other words, consider yourself lucky if you get there before these made-fresh-daily chips fly out the door, because you’ve just hit the authentic taro chip lottery. Just don’t tell your friends about it, as this small business only sells what Nagamine makes each day, and he has no intentions of expanding.
Taro Ko Factory is located in Hanapēpē at 3940 Hanapēpē Rd. They are open every day from 8 a.m.–5 pm. For more information, call 808-335-5586.
This story was featured in our Charm Issue.