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Sandwich Isle Bread Company: Waimea’s Itinerant Bakers & Their Beautiful Wood-Fired Oven!

"Baking is love made visible." - Anonymous

The Cabrera's

The Big Island Is Bountiful  

A Rangpur Lime tree can grow as tall as 15 feet.  It is a naturally occurring fruit on Hawaii's Big Island, a Lemon and Tangerine hybrid.  It has a reddish-orange skin, and when cooked down into jams and sauces, its flavor profile can be described as intense sour bursts coupled with a smokey hint of citrus and suddenly sweet. When friends and family gift Kay Cabrera a harvest, she makes Rangpur Lime Marmalade, and it flies off the shelf of Sandwich Isle Bread Company in Waimea’s, Big Island of Hawaii. If you are connected on their Meta or Insta, you know the value of good local products, and the demand speaks for itself. 

Rangpur Lime

I learned about Passionfruit (Lilikoi) and its bounty. Lilikoi, once plentiful but now impacted by volcanic acid rain and urban sprawl in the last decade, is a fast-growing vine with exotic purple and yellow blossoms.  It is an egg-shaped fruit with silky pulp and seeds that can be eaten. When the fruit grows, it blossoms purple and yellow, with long pollination stamen. When buckets of foraged fruit make their way into the backdoor of Sandwich Isle’s kitchen, they prep the fruit, scoop out the pulp, and use it to make a Lilikoi cake - a silky chiffon with sweet notes. Kay also bakes Lilikoi Bars, Lilikoi Meringue Tarts, and the ultra-rich Lilikoi Curd. Kay explains, “Its flavor and aroma are quintessential Hawaii, floral and sweet but packing a vibrant acidic punch for balance.” If you catch a Lilkoi cake at the bakery in Waimea, grab it while it's fresh. 

It All Began With A Wood-Fired Oven

La Paynol Wood-fired Oven

 A family-run operation, Kevin, Kay, and Morgan run the bakehouse and farmer’s market from the Sandwich Isle Bread Company. When I asked Kay how they got started, it wasn’t necessarily a traditional start-up. When are successful business stories a perfect blueprint anyway? For the Cabrera family, it all began with a shipment of a La Paynol wood-fired oven core from France via an order submitted to a family of wood-fired oven experts based in Maine. Wood Heat and the Barden family, whom they met at a Bread Baker’s Conference in 2006. This family from Maine builds extraordinary mobile wood-fired ovens that find homes all over the Northeastern United States, Canada, and Hawaii. When that well-traveled shipment arrived, Kevin jumped in a truck with his friends and picked up a giant crate from the local port. 

About twenty years ago, Hawaiians heard rumblings of The State of  Hawaii looking into building a Ferry system amongst the island chain. A means for islanders to commute back and forth from one island to another to attend meetings, school, and run their businesses.  The Cabrera’s dream of taking that mobile wood-fired oven throughout the islands and selling their delicious bread and baked goods seemed possible. But, little did they know that the ferry system feasibility project would be canceled for various reasons. But that didn’t stop them from leaving their day jobs at the local high-end hotel chains to start their baking operation. Kevin’s buddies rallied around them and built a solid trailer to balance a heavy load and a mobile commercial kitchen. When sharing this story, Kay lit up with joy and had a big laugh with me - about how it all began.   

Once set-up and testing was complete, they were ready to bake a batch of sourdough. Kevin fired up the oven, filling it with Kiawe wood and heating the deck to 1000 degrees, while Kay shaped and prepped the dough for baking. The results were terrific, better than imagined. Their Proof of Concept was selling bread in the parking lot of a liquor store. Still, the business concept didn’t gel until a local ice cream factory called Tropical Dreams Ice Cream supported the Cabrera’s dream.  They helped to anchor them when baking from the single oven on the back of their truck was the start-up vision. That ice cream operation allowed them to utilize their commercial kitchen to satisfy the health department codes. Kevin and Kay talked with their friends, neighbors, and passersby to get everyone and anyone interested in their project and to sell that delicious bread! 

By the end of their first year, that little bread company partnered with Kekela

Farms and set up operations with like-minded people growing high-quality produce. The Itinerant Bakers continued their quest for baking naturally-leavened bread in a wood-fired oven for the community-right on the farm. They built a successful business over the years because of community collaboration. Eventually, local zoning requirements displaced them again, and the Cabrera’s desided to bring operations in-house, retiring the original much loved, very worn wood-fired ovens. It was when tthey received notice that a local bakery might be closing on the island, and it changed the direction of their plans.

Waimea Farmers Market

Sandwich Isle Bread Company    

When Kay and Kevin rolled their mobile baking operation into a brick-and-mortar business, they were ready to run a kitchen again.  It was challenging to build the next level of operations; and it took professional consulting, commercial kitchen licensing, and Articles of Incorporation. They grew that mobile oven into a business platform serving the community with humility and gratitude, selling one loaf at a time - every step of the way.  Community first is one of the core principles of their business.

Pane Pugliese

Kevin is the commercial bread subject matter expert, and his favorite loaf to bake is Pane Pugliese. He learned his craft from many people before him and credits his success to “Overactive Optimism Bias” ~ A Friend.   He also wants to thank Hawaii’s Chef Jean Hull from The American Academy of Chefs (AAC) of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. She supported and encouraged Kevin and so many others along the way - he is grateful for her support. Kay is the family's pastry chef, producing delicious products like the Lilkoi cake. Today, Morgan is slowly taking over while being trained by two masterful bakers. She, too, brings her skills and strengths to the baker's bench. 

Sandwich Isle’s social media platform showcases relevant content, videos, and pictures of some of the most amazing baked goods available to locals and visitors alike. Today, they sell at Waimea Town Farmer’s Market at Parker School on Saturdays from 7:30am - 12:00pm. Their bakery is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday at 65-1158 Mamalahoa Hwy #7, Waimea, HI 96743. They commercially deliver to The Wine Markets in Kona, and a grocer in Hawi. The Cabrera’s are constantly leveling up in the baking scene. The next time you find yourself on The Big Island, head into Waimea for a sweet treat and a loaf of that terrifically hydrated sourdough bread at Sandwich Isle Bread Company.

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