Catch a whiff

  • Ely Pessah and his wife, Emma, greet customers in the retail space at the entrance of their bakery in Waimea. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
    Ely Pessah and his wife, Emma, greet customers in the retail space at the entrance of their bakery in Waimea. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
  • John Barbier, one of two pastry chefs at Mamane Street Bakery, focuses on rolls as they come off the conveyor belt. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
    John Barbier, one of two pastry chefs at Mamane Street Bakery, focuses on rolls as they come off the conveyor belt. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
  • Imelda Ternura dips macaroons into chocolate to create a popular sweet treat made at Mamane Street Bakery.(LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
    Imelda Ternura dips macaroons into chocolate to create a popular sweet treat made at Mamane Street Bakery.(LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
  • The majority of the bakery’s business is wholesale, producing 1,200 dozen hamburger buns minimum per week, mostly for restaurants and supermarkets. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
    The majority of the bakery’s business is wholesale, producing 1,200 dozen hamburger buns minimum per week, mostly for restaurants and supermarkets. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)

WAIMEA — A sign in his office at Mamane Street Bakery in Waimea reads: “Dr. of Pastry.”

It’s not real of course; a culinary doctorate degree is currently not available. But if there was, Chef Ely Pessah would definitely have earned it through determination, skills and hard work.

After nearly 30 years baking on the Big Island and 12 years prior on the mainland, Chef Ely is very good at what he does — literally. His baked goods are so sought after that he currently supplies more than a dozen restaurants, such as Pau, Big Island Brewhaus, Three Fat Pigs and Napua, and resorts as far south as Captain Cook and up and down the Kohala Coast.

Chances are, if you’ve eaten a burger or sandwich at a local restaurant, the bun or bread it was served on was made by Mamane Street Bakery.

Chef Ely is the epitome of the American dream, starting as a baker when he was just 16. His first job was working part time at Fantasia Confections in San Francisco while still in high school.

“They were like the Beverly Hills of pastries,” he said.

The training was ideal because baking was to become his de facto career.

“I took the job because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he remembered. “I liked it so it became my profession.”

And he’s still enjoying the work.

From San Francisco, Chef Ely went to work for the MGM Grand Resort in Reno, Nevada, and later became a pastry cook for Safeway. He came to the Big Island in 1986 to open the bakery section at the Safeway in Hilo, moved on to work at several of the Kohala Coast resorts and then opened his own bakery in Honokaa. He moved into his larger Waimea location in March 2008.

“I love it,” he says about his job. “When I retire I want to travel but I’ll probably still be back here six months of the year baking.”

It’s a good thing he likes the work because no matter how you slice it, baking bread for a living is hard work.

Like most pastry chefs, Chef Ely has to be at work very early in the morning, arriving by 5 a.m. most days. But he’s not the first one there. Three other bakers arrive at 3 a.m.

Only 12 people, including bakers and those in packing, deliveries and sales, work at Mamane Street Bakery but in the 6,000-square-foot building filled with state-of-the-art equipment they accomplish big things.

“We can accommodate very large orders. For example, we can make 500 to 1,000 bagels at a time, if needed, because we’re so well equipped,” Chef Ely said.

He began outfitting the bakery when he moved into the building 15 years ago and has been adding to it and upgrading his equipment ever since.

Chef Ely’s customer base is solid. Even when they were first getting started in Honokaa the bakery has never advertised.

“People know us. We’ve been around a while and our success has been mostly word of mouth,” he said. “The bakery stays successful because we offer quality products, consistency and excellent service. Loyal customers and community support are also factors in our success.”

Ninety-five percent of Mamane Street Bakery’s business is wholesale, producing 1,200 dozen hamburger buns minimum per week, mostly for restaurants and supermarkets, and 200-250 ciabattas a week, according to Chef Ely.

However, a small retail space in the entrance of the bakery is where individual and small-lot baked goods are showcased and sold to the public, including a variety of pastries, including blueberry scones, apple turnovers, mango and guava Danishes, cinnamon coffee cake and their signature item: honey bran muffins with macadamia nuts.

There are also freshly baked cookies, chocolate dipped coconut macaroons, pies and more than 10 varieties of freshly baked breads such as flat bread, whole wheat, sourdough, Asiago and ciabatta. Chef Ely recently started selling his own chocolates as well.

It is a popular stop for locals, as proven by frequent customers who come to get their fix almost daily. One loyal follower, known as Cody, said he likes Mamane Street Bakery’s “the works” bagels the best. On a recent Saturday morning, he was excited to learn about the surprise addition of homemade Asiago onion in his bag as well.

“Oh boy, now I’m in heaven,” he said.

What Cody likes even more than the bagels, however, is the aroma in his car as he drives around town doing errands.

“I come here first because I want to get here before things sell out, but even more so because I want that smell of freshly baked bread in my car while I’m doing my morning errands,” he said. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

Positive feedback from customers, as well as his five-star rating on Yelp, makes Chef Ely smile.

“As a pastry chef, I strive to give people what they want,” he said. “I try to please my customers as much as I can.”

Info: Mamane Street Bakery, located at 64-Mamalahoa Highway, is open 7 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 885-7441

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