How Leonard’s Bakery Brought Its Malasadas to Hawaii

It’s hard not to notice the tall red and yellow neon sign on Kapahulu Avenue in Honolulu, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. A large arrow points to Hawaii’s longtime icon, Leonard’s Bakery, where lines wrap around the front and a mountain of malasadas – 8,500 of them – are sold every day. It became a Malasada landmark owned and operated by generations of Leonards.

Best eaten hot and fresh, the soft and fluffy Portuguese donut is coated with sugar and shaped round with no hole. No one knew when the bakery opened 70 years ago that malasadas would become so popular.

“The bakers didn’t want to do that,” Crystine Ito, marketing assistant at Leonard’s Bakery, told SFGATE. “They said it was very ethnic, very different, but they didn’t own the bakery.”

Portuguese immigrants brought malasada to Hawaii at a time when immigrant workers from all over the world were being hired to work in the sugar cane fields in the late 1800s, but Padaria Leonard was the first bakery to make the dessert sugary. widely available.

Leonard Rego was the grandson of Portuguese immigrants from the island of São Miguel in the Azores who were sent to Maui to work. Rego moved with his wife, Margaret, to Honolulu and worked as a manager at another bakery before opening his own. In 1952, he opened Leonard’s Bakery and then, needing a larger space, moved the bakery to its current location on Kapahulu Avenue in 1957, bringing the neon signs with him.

Selling breads and pastries, the bakery boasted “the finest baked goods” using natural ingredients from island eggs and fresh milk, unlike its competitors who used powdered eggs and milk.


Leonard Rego, the founder of Leonard’s Bakery, holds a tray of his malasadas, the house specialty.


Courtesy of Leonard’s Bakery

Historic photos of Leonard's Bakery, Hawaii.

Historic photos of Leonard’s Bakery, Hawaii.


Images courtesy of Leonard’s Bakery

A mobile malasada wagon from the 1960s.

A mobile malasada wagon from the 1960s.


Courtesy of Leonard’s Bakery

Historic photos of Leonard's Bakery, Hawaii.

Historic photos of Leonard’s Bakery, Hawaii.


Images courtesy of Leonard’s Bakery


Leonard’s Legacy (clockwise from top left): founder Leonard Rego, circa 1975; the opening of its current location in 1957; inside the new location in ’57; a suitcase wagon in the 1960s. (Images courtesy of Leonard’s Bakery)


It was Rego’s mother who suggested making malasadas using her mother’s recipe shortly after opening. A Portuguese tradition, she encouraged Rego to make them for Shrove Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, which falls the day before Ash Wednesday – and is the last day to eat rich foods before the Easter fast. Lent.

“We are a melting pot, and everyone always uses that phrase because we really are, and I think they accepted a Portuguese dessert in Hawaii and it took off,” says Ito.

Technically, the malasadas are from the Azores islands, an archipelago off the coast of Portugal. The confection is made with yeast, eggs, butter and milk, but there may be variations in the recipe. Leonard’s Bakery uses his family recipe. Its secret lies in how the dough is made, and is still used today.

A selection of Leonard's Bakery malasadas with fillings.

A selection of Leonard’s Bakery malasadas with fillings.

Images courtesy of Leonard’s Bakery

The bakers, some of whom have been there for over 40 years, mix more than 1,000 kilograms of dough daily. From start to finish, it can take around three hours.

“The process is very long,” says Ito. “They put all the ingredients together and make the first mix and then mix again. They let you sit, they pull you out, they let you grow. They have to cut the dough, they fry the dough.”

Bakers make the malasada dough for all Leonard's Bakery locations on Oahu.

Bakers make the malasada dough for all Leonard’s Bakery locations on Oahu.

Courtesy of Leonard’s Bakery

Leonard’s also makes sweet bread, pastries, cookies, cupcakes and pies. In the 1960s, the bakery was the trendy place to buy custom cakes – decorating up to 250 cakes over the weekend. Most notably, he created elaborate birthday cakes for celebrity parties such as those for Duke Kahanamoku and Bob Hope.

When Rego’s wife passed away, their son Leonard Rego Jr. became the current owner and decided he wanted to continue the legacy his parents had started. Today, his sons, including another Leonard, also help out in the bakery.

While the family loved to keep Leonard’s bakery in the family, it was never a requirement.

“They never made their kids go back to work,” says Ito. COVID-19 brought the youngest Leonard back to Hawaii from college. “While he was here, he learned the family business and worked in the bakery. … I think he’s enjoying it.

The original malasada is still the bakery’s best seller, although some are now sold with a variety of fillings. In the early 1990s, Leonard Jr. thought that filling the donuts with creams such as custard, dobash (chocolate) and macadamia nuts would be a nice addition. The cream filling is the customer’s favorite.

A suitcase from Leonard's Bakery.

A suitcase from Leonard’s Bakery.

Courtesy of Leonard’s Bakery

The bakery has also grown to five locations on Oahu. Four of them are food trucks scattered around the island, called Malasadamobiles. In 2005, a franchise location opened in a four-story shopping complex in Yokohama, Japan.

“[Leonard Jr.] it just seems like it’s their team’s hard work and commitment to the bakery that makes them successful,” says Ito. “When you think of Hawaii, a lot of people think of lunches and malasadas, so I think he really enjoys being a part of Hawaii culture.”

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