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Kailua’s Gem

Remembering Don Dymond’s legacy

Last October, the Kailua community said farewell to one of its most familiar, friendly faces in the neighborhood. Don Dymond, who had lived in Kailua since 1986 and became owner of the landmark Kalapawai Market, died at age 68 of brain and lung cancer.

The highly respected businessman took over the iconic neighborhood store with some friends in 1992, and became sole owner a few years later. He also opened Zia’s Caffe in Kailua in 1998 (which he sold in 2013), Zia’s Caffe in Kane‘ohe in 2001, and Kalapawai Cafe in Kailua town in December 2006.

Through the years, he built a reputation for heavy community involvement and for being a generous supporter. Dymond was a regular contributor to the popular I Love Kailua Town Party and its annual Fourth of July fireworks show, and he donated to countless organizations, charities and silent auctions. He also served on Le Jardin Academy’s board of directors.

“We have in fact started a Don Dymond Scholarship Fund at Le Jardin with donations we received from his passing, and businesses will continue to contribute to that scholarship in perpetuity,” says son Lindsey, who attended Le Jardin along with his brother Jeffrey. “We haven’t figured out how we’re going to divvy the funds out, it’s so new. But we decided to set up an account with the school, and we can help a couple of kids get a nice education. That would really please my dad.”

Don lived all over the mainland growing up, but spent much of his childhood in Texas because his stepfather was in the U.S. Air Force. As a young adult, he lived in Northern California, met his wife Marianne, and moved to Hawai‘i in the 1970s.

“He and my mom came on vacation, went home, sold everything and moved here,” explains Lindsey. “They came to Kailua, then bounced around O‘ahu for a little bit, and then in 1986 re-established themselves in Kailua. They chose it because they loved the small-town charm—and the beautiful beaches were a bonus.”

Slowly, supermarket chains and national retailers found their way to the tightly knit Kailua community. Kalapawai, meanwhile, grew in popularity, becoming a gathering spot for Kailuans and a must-stop shop for beachgoers. It also never lost its country neighborhood feel.

“Kalapawai Market has been here since the 1920s, 1930s—it says 1932 but that was our best guess,” notes Lindsey. “It had been an old-time neighborhood grocery store for this side of town for many years before the supermarkets came around. It was run by the Wong family for many, many years, but they were ready to retire and their lease was up. So, my dad, who had a background in commercial real estate development, was looking for a career change and took advantage of the opportunity with some friends. By about 1995 or 1996, he was the sole owner and face of the market.

“Today, it’s a country beach store where you can get a cold pack, bag of ice, nice deli sandwich, bag of chips and some freshly made salsa, and go to the beach. Or if you’re on your way to a friend’s house, you can pick up that bottle of wine. We also have fresh ginger a couple of times a week at the front.”

Lindsey has been running the family business for the past 10 years and is determined to keep it going strong. He credits his dad for being a good mentor to not only him, but also to the thousands of people who have worked for them.

“His belief as a business owner was that you’re part of the community in which you do business and you have to respect that community first. You hire local employees, you buy from your local vendors as often as you possibly can, and you need to nurture your relationships with the people who are around you. Your neighbors will make or break you.

“And although it’s impossible to be everything to everybody all the time, if you do your best and you honestly try to do the right thing, in this business, you have a good probability of being successful.”

Currently, there are about 100 employees, including many longtime Kailua residents, among Kalapawai Market, Kalapawai Cafe and Zia’s Caffe. Soon, their staff is expected to grow with the opening of a second Kalapawai Cafe in Kapolei.

“We chose Kapolei because we were able to buy the land, and we were looking for something where we can have a little legacy in perpetuity by being the landowner and not living with a lease.”

As for Kalapawai’s familiar green plantation-style building near Kailua Beach Park, Lindsey says it’s undergoing a slight face lift with some repairs and minor changes and improvements. “Dad was here till the very end; we always said he would go with his boots on. I would like to thank the people of Kailua. They have been nothing but gracious and wonderful to my family. It has not been an easy year, but the community has been very supportive. We look forward to being around for a very long time, and continuing to be a part of Kailua as much as we can.”