Although supermarkets existed in the islands as early as 1928; it was not until after World War II that supermarkets developed on a large scale basis in Hawaii.
Maurice J Sullivan left his native Ireland in 1927 (at the age of 17) for New York with $7 in his pocket. His first job was sacking potatoes at The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) in Pennsylvania. Within a year, he worked his way up to store manager in Buffalo, New York.
During World War II, Sullivan enlisted in the Air Corps and was stationed at Hickam Air Base. Placed in charge of procuring product for the Commissary and Officers’ Mess Hall, “Sully” would travel the island looking for fresh produce.
One such trip brought him to the Lanikai store, run by Chinese immigrants, the Lau family. The Laus had purchased the Lanikai store in 1941. Shoo She Pang “Mama” Lau and her daughter Joanna befriended him. Joanna, a McKinley High School graduate, had left her studies at the University of Hawaii to help her mother run Lanikai Store.
Soon, Sully would visit them on his days off to work at the store. After the war, the Laus asked Sully to help them run their business.
Knowing he would not be satisfied running a small mom-and-pop store and worried that Hawai‘i was too small, he declined and returned to Buffalo, NY. (A few weeks of winter changed his mind, and he returned to the islands.)
He went back to the Laus at the Lanikai store and told them he had two conditions in working with them: first, they would remodel the store, and second, they would promise to one day help him fulfill his dream of opening a supermarket.
They agreed. Sully worked there for two years as store manager.
The Laus were friends with Hiram Fong, who had just purchased some property at the corner of Kapiʻolani Boulevard and Harding Avenue in Honolulu – this became Market City Shopping Center.
Mama Lau persuaded Fong to lease her space for a supermarket. With the hard work of Mama, Sully and Joanna and $20,000 in capital, the store opened on May 6, 1948. At Joanna’s suggestion, the store was called ‘Foodland Super Market.’
The success of the Market City store demonstrated the popularity of the supermarket concept and showed Sully’s commitment to creating great shopping experiences.
From there the Foodland chain grew quickly as School Street, ‘Āina Haina and Beretania Street locations joined the fold within a few years.
The first traffic signal in Kailua was installed at the intersection of Kuʻulei and Kailua Roads in 1954. That year, Foodland opened Windward Oʻahu’s first modern supermarket across from Kailua Beach Park. (Kāneʻohe Ranch)
Not only were Foodland’s fifth and twelfth stores located in Kailua, but Sully Sullivan soon married Mama’s daughter, Joanna Lau, and the two raised their family in Kailua – right next to the Kailua Road store.
The company grew quickly, opening a store a year for the next ten years. It expanded to Kauai in 1967, Maui in 1970 and the Big Island in 1971.
In addition to Foodland, Sully opened Food Pantry (to serve Hawaii’s growing visitor market), Dunkin’ Donuts, Hallmark card stores, Morrow’s Nut House, Swiss Colony and jewelry retailer Coral Grotto. Sullivan was the original Hawaii franchisee for McDonald’s; the first one opened in ‘Āina Haina.
Today, there are 32 Foodland and Sack N Save locations statewide, and more than 2,500 employees. (Sully died February 28, 1998 and Joanna died September 2, 2015.)
Remaining a locally-owned, family-run business, the company is now run by Sully’s daughter, Jenai Sullivan Wall. (Lots of information here is from Foodland, Advertiser and Star-Bulletin.)