Hilo’s Hatada Bakery — Harmony in History

The second largest city in the state of Hawai’i, Hilo, or Moku O Keawe (the Hawaiian name for Hilo) is a small, beloved historic town located on the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian Island chain. Despite being a town shaped by devastating tsunamis, destructive lava flows and occasional earthquakes, a rich history still stands in many buildings from 100 years ago. Between Hilo Iron Works and Bishop Street, was Shinmachi (Japanese for ”New town”) a Japanese-village with many markets, houses and businesses. Unfortunately, on April 1, 1946 (April Fool’s day), Shinmachi was completely destroyed by a tsunami that traveled almost five hours from the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. This became the deadliest natural disaster in written history 11 years before statehood. Located in Shinmachi, was Hatada Bakery. 

In an attempt to protect it’s assets from another possible tsunami, the destruction inspired the family-owned bakery to move further inland to Kukuau Street, known as “the village” on the other side of the river. Thankfully, that building survived the 1960 tsunami and maintained its status as the only bakery with island-wide distribution. Operational from the 1930’s to the 70’s, the Hatada Bakery building was subsequently sold in 1993. It was derelict for many years with squatters until Rick Barbati, (local realtor), bought the vacant, rat-infested building. He rented it out to the local chapter of A.A. as their noon meeting space for about 10 years, before a local ukulele luthier had it for a couple more. When the luthier was moving out, Rick happened to show it to Bub Pratt, who was an already established musician needing a place to teach music. The building was still standing but in shambles and Bub saw the potential despite its condition. 

“I didn’t find this place, this place found me,” Pratt explains. Upon receiving the keys in February of 2015, renovation efforts immediately began, and Pratt did not act alone. It was a collective effort with trusted friends in the community. The poet, singer-songwriter, and producer credits the following for being a crucial part of the studio’s upbringing: Dean Krakauer, Dan Madsen, Rick Barbati, Keli’i Kukuau, and Diana Webb. And on April 1, 2015 Aunty Emily sang a mele over a potluck followed by an open mic and a handful of guest musical performances— birthing what we now know as Kukuau Studio. 

Kukuau Studio has been Hilo’s number one hotspot for jazz for over eight years, and counting. A multi-media art space/music instruction space by day and event center by night. The interior wall is covered with an all-encompassing mural done by Dan Madsen, Maya Swinford, Bub Pratt and volunteers. “The Village Vortex” as Pratt calls it, “because we’re in a mushroom village in the Village”. Pratt exclaims. It’s the third all-encompassing mural that has been on display. As an event space they charge as low as $350 for a 3-hour evening event that is pau (finished) by 9pm. Along with venue rentals, recording services are also available. 

“People know they’re safe and welcome here” says Pratt, curator of the studio, “I can see their creative selves emerge as they walk through the door”. They have had jazz jams, poetry slams, comedy shows, touring bands and live recordings (to name a few), and Pratt hopes to keep the heartbeat of the music scene alive and well in the town he so loves. As far as having a plan regarding the studio, Pratt explains, “When I moved here [the studio] I didn’t really have a solid plan in place, for a while I just rolled with the punches, but the vision is becoming clearer as the community speaks as to what they’d like to attend. “For almost a decade, the community of Hilo has “supported this crazy little space.” 

Kukuau Studio stands as a proverbial testament of what one community effort could achieve with consistent offerings as a creative social hub. 

So, who is Bub Pratt? Hailing from Seattle, Washington, Pratt studied jazz and creative writing in college then later moved to the island. He is currently writing his second musical, producing music for other artists and hosting events, while teaching voice, and all the fretted instruments (except banjo) to around twenty students per week. 

When asking Pratt what he hopes the community could take away from the studio, he says “I’m just happy to be doing my part in supporting the arts in a community that I love, and I feel loved back”.

To book the studio for your next event, contact the curator at You can also access their website at, or contact Bub directly at 808-464-3388

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