Few shops on Big Island cater to the sweet tooths of visitors and locals alike quite like Big Island Candies, whose sprawling factory and handsome storefront found off a leafy side-road in the town of Hilo is absolutely packed wall to wall with buttery, sugar-dusted chocolatey delights.
The alluring perfume of its fresh-baked shortbreads greets visitors all the way out in the parking lot, where wafts of the buttery, inviting aroma stream out from behind the nondescript building and make stomachs grumble. The smell only gets more intense upon entering the product showroom – an elaborately decorated and well air-conditioned maze of colorful candy boxes stacked in neat piles on shelves.
Just a few minutes spent perusing the cornucopia of Hawaii-inspired treats and trying to keep track of which one sounds the most delicious is enough to make your head spin: cookies, brownies, biscotti, toffee, jars of honey, locally grown macadamia nuts and coffee beans covered in chocolate, macadamia nut shortbread, chocolate covered animal crackers, even the traditional Japanese dessert made with sweet bean paste known as “manju”.
Most of these goodies are offered in several different flavors, and in versions like milk, dark or white chocolate-dipped. For example, the macadamia nut shortbreads alone are available in coconut, lemon, pineapple, taro, coffee, green tea, chocolate chip and more. The factory even bakes plain butter shortbread without the macadamias for customers frequenting its showroom who have nut allergies.
And just when visitors to Big Island Candies think they have spotted the most delectable-sounding goodie of them all, they come upon the shop’s holy grail: chocolate-dipped brownies. And even these come in several different flavors, including a “milk chocolate-dipped peanut butter brownie” that seems the have the most tantalizing name of them all. Then there are the specialty brownies for those wanting to explore new takes on the classic treat: soft and fruity passionfruit mochi brownies or the rich, pungent and aromatic dark chocolate-dipped coffee brownies.
After some length, the shelves of sweets turn from shortbreads and brownies to cookies, and more brightly colored boxes of purples, browns and greens assembled in their neat stacks appear: gingerbread cookies, Hawaiian salt cookies, bite-sized macadamia nut cookies, chocolate chip mac nut cookies, guava cookies, Kona coffee cookies – even cranberry mac nut oatmeal cookies. Then come the specialty chocolates: milk chocolate macadamia nut toffee, dark and milk chocolate-covered mac nuts, crispy rice chocolate crunch – and for the really adventurous, Hawaiian Red Chili toffee. Big Island Candies even sells homemade chocolate macadamia nut rocky road, crafted with a healthy amount of mini marshmallows.
Before long, visitors usually find themselves staring through the store’s transparent wall out onto the factory floor, where blue-gloved employees wearing green shirts, hair caps and facemasks tend workstations carefully dipping stacks of shortbread and brownies into vats of warm chocolate and laying them out on sheets to dry.
There are dozens of individual stations scattered throughout the factory floor, many with signs hanging overhead stating their purpose: baking, hand-dipping, packaging, quality inspection. These are undoubtedly to aid the spectators standing behind the glass, who might otherwise see just a bustling beehive of activity of freshly dipped treats being wheeled on carts from place to place around the immaculate room. Here it’s not uncommon to see groups of young children with faces pressed up against the glass, marveling and drooling at the sight of tubs of liquid chocolate, like something out of Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory.
A Curious Piece Of Hilo History With A World-Class Gift Shop
Big Island Candies was founded by Allan Ikawa and his wife Irma in 1977, investing every penny they had to launch the confection company. They started out very small: a shrink wrap machine and a chocolate melter pored over for long days within a small warehouse along the city’s industrial district.
They experienced many setbacks over a half-century in business, but still kept at it and slowly yet steadily managed to build the company into a well-renowned, multi-island brand, which to this day still uses 100 percent Big Island-sourced coffee and macadamia nuts while creating its vast catalog of goodies. All this makes the candy shop a sweet, enduring fixture of Hilo’s foodie scene, a one-stop-shop for gift-seeking visitors wanting to bring back something truly special, and a great pit stop on an around-the-island road trip to load up on beach, car and hiking snacks. After all, no Big Island gift basket is truly complete without a box or two of locally made, mouthwatering shortbread in decadent tropical flavors like passionfruit, guava and Kona coffee.
Tables of gift baskets are scattered around the showroom floor, many including assortments of the most popular sweets. The largest gift basket contains ten boxes and four bags of everything from biscotti to brownies to cookies to chocolate covered macadamia nuts. A smaller version of the basket features seven boxes and four bags and includes some specialty items like cocoa-dusted almonds and chocolate covered Kona coffee beans. The baskets are customizable, too, so shoppers can pick and choose which treats they think their loved ones will like the most.
Then there are smaller, beautifully designed gift boxes tied up with colored ribbon, which come in prints like: Flower Focus, Cherry Blossom, Torch Ginger, Goldfish, Purple Wonder, Amauu Fern and Green Maidenhair. These are eye-catching, travel-friendly samplers of all the delicious things Big Island Candies has to offer, perfect for envious friends and family members back home. They make scrumptious gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, homecomings and graduations, and their ornate boxes decorated with iconic Hawaiian plants, flowers and fish are such to be treasured for years to come.
For those visiting Big Island Candies who haven’t had a chance to try the island’s world-famous coffee yet, you’re in luck! One corner of the showroom is inhabited by a small cafe serving up steaming cups of fresh-brewed Kona and Ka’u coffee grown on small farms on the island’s western and southern flanks. The sound of a whining blender fills the store from time to time as barristers mix up smoothies in flavors like strawberry, mango, cappuccino, banana and pina colada – most of them made with Big Island’s world-famous tropical fruit. The cafe even offers “ice cream pies” – individual-serving frozen pies made with Big Island Candies’ signature original cookie or chocolate shortbread crust and the island of Maui’s very own Roselani Ice Cream.
And nothing rounds out a one-of-a-kind gift basket of Hawaiian chocolate and shortbread goodness better than a Big Island Candies-branded reusable tote; a way to savor the sweet memories even after all the cookies, brownies and chocolates are long gone. These are very inexpensive – just one or two dollars per bag, and they make terrific last-minute gifts for candy lovers.
The sweetshop’s goodies are so well-renown, in fact, that they’ve had to open another retail store within the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu to keep up with demand, which offers the same fare as its Hilo flagship factory and showroom located on Hinano Street.
How To Get There
Big Island Candies is located roughly two blocks west of the entrance to Hilo’s Airport Road leading to Hilo International Airport (ITO), and half a block from Hilo Urgent Care, just off of Highway 11 otherwise known as Hawaii Belt Road.
The street address of the candy factory and showroom is 585 Hinano Street, where visitors will know they are in the right place simply based on the alluring smell of shortbread wafting out to greet them in the parking lot. Big Island Candies’ Hilo location is open daily from 8:30am to 5:00pm, and most of its offering of sweets and treats can be found within the company’s online product catalog found at bigislandcandies.com. Orders can be placed online as well as over the phone and can be shipped anywhere in the world.
For those who missed the chance to pick up sweetbreads, cookies, chocolates, toffee and brownies while they were on Big Island, have no fear! The company’s second location is found at 1450 Ala Moana Boulevard within Honolulu’s Ala Moana Shopping Center on the island of Oahu. This satellite location is open from 10:00am to 8:00pm Monday through Saturday, and from 10:00am to 6:00pm on Sundays.
After a busy day of candy sampling, shortbread smelling and gift basket designing, visitors to Big Island Candies will no doubt work up an appetite, and thankfully there are several excellent restaurants within walking distance of the sweets shop, including the locally beloved Hawaiian Style Cafe Hilo, Sakura Sushi and Grill, Sombat’s Fresh Thai Cuisine, Liquid Life Hilo and the Hilo Lunch Shop. “The Full 9 Yards”, another locally owned candy shop with plenty of Hawaiian flare, is located less than a block away from Big Island Candies within Manono Street Marketplace, and is open Tuesday thru Saturday 10:00am to 5:00pm.