Beretania Florist has flourished for 86 years under Nakamoto family

·6 min read

May 14—Flowers are a tradition for the Nakamoto family, going on five generations. They're the family that founded Beretania Florist 86 years ago in the same small building on Beretania Street it occupies now.

Flowers are a tradition for the Nakamoto family, going on five generations.

They're the family that founded Beretania Florist 86 years ago in the same small building on Beretania Street it occupies now. It would be easy to miss just driving by, with only a sign with old-fashioned red lettering above the door, and bay windows crowded with bouquets and orchids on display.

Its nondescript storefront gives little hint that this company thrives as a multifaceted online business started against all odds by Japanese immigrants in 1937 who couldn't speak English. The couple's granddaughter and great-­grandsons are carrying on the family legacy of working hard together, catering to their customers' preferences, and selling quality products.

"Every generation involved made it better, " said June Naka ­moto, whose late in-laws Shigeichi and Yukie Nakamoto opened the business. "We all love the shop."

She said the family not only works together, they all live in the same house.

Even at the age of 84, she's still at the store six days a week, doing whatever needs to be done. Her eldest daughter, Celeste Nakamoto Farinas, 58, bought the business in 2013, assisted by sons Reece and Beau Farinas, 31 and 27, respectively.

"It's no problem for me to be here every day. I love it because I can see that we still make customers happy. Our product is beautiful and our workers are fabulous, " Nakamoto said.

June Nakamoto was the second generation of owners, who took over around 1967 ; she had married the founders' son Howard (who died in 2015 ), one of five siblings.

Nakamoto was a hairdresser in her 30s at the time her in-laws were ready to retire, and they asked her and Howard to take over. With no experience with basic plant care or flowers, she declined at first. She didn't want to work seven days a week and never take any holidays off like her in-laws. But her mother-in-law stressed that it was Nakamoto's duty to help her husband make a success of the business—"it was very Japanese, to do whatever it takes to make the family prosper."

"I was so lucky I fell in love with the shop, I'm so grateful because I really enjoyed working, " Nakamoto said, choking up a bit at the memory.

"It's the creating stuff, helping people do something that's important to them for an anniversary, a new baby, a birthday, " she said.

Nakamoto most enjoys helping customers over the phone, as so many appreciate talking to a real person instead of selecting automated options. She asks them about a person's favorite color and other preferences so their order is personalized. Beretania Florist arrangements may cost more than most ($100 to $500 ) but it's because they use the freshest products that will last the longest, she said.

She and her husband learned their basic business values from his parents, who stayed on for a year to train them. Her in-laws by then spoke pidgin English but mostly showed them visually how to arrange flowers, deal with customers and run the operation. For the most part, Nakamoto managed the front of the shop and took care of the workers, but remembers how she learned to arrange flowers, which her husband was in charge of.

"It was by watching, trying it, failing, trying again until finally it doesn't look too bad. ... then : Wow, it's looks so pretty when it's done ! It makes you feel so good, and when somebody comes in and buys it and says : Oh, it looks so beautiful ! It makes you feel even better !"

Luckily, her husband was as creative a floral designer as his father, who had trained for many years under a florist, and also had a good business sense. Eventually Howard Nakamoto expanded their business connections, hired floral designers to help him with the arrangements and brought in instructors to give them classes to broaden their horizons.

"Howard joined different associations like FTD (Florists' Transworld Delivery ). He opened it up so we could become a wire service and be able to work with florists on the mainland, " she said, adding that they were isolated before he made those connections.

Celeste Farinas said the florist once had two other locations in Waikiki, and she once managed a downtown Honolulu store ; they closed around 2005 when her father realized they didn't need so many brick-and-mortar stores after their online business took off. She has learned all aspects of the business and pinch-hits for everyone during peak holidays. Her husband, Larry Farinas, who has a job elsewhere, also helps with deliveries when it gets busy.

The shop has undergone major changes since the family used to live in a house behind the shop. Where an outdoor patio once stood behind the store, her dad installed two large walk-in refrigerators and a third on the side, and expanded the floral designer room. The front of the store had a larger showroom at one time, but now half of the building frontage is occupied by another tenant. They have 15 to 20 regular staff, half of whom have been with the shop for a long time, one more than 30 years.

"I'm grateful to my parents for being such good role models to me and my family, " said Celeste Farinas. "We always saw how hard they worked and learned from their work ethic that you had to do whatever it took to finish the task and make it perfect."

When Farinas took over, she focused on keeping updated with current trends, redesigning their products to appeal to a younger demographic and being more innovative with marketing.

"One of my greatest joys is working with my family at the florist. We all love the shop and we share the same goals, and everyone instinctively knows what we need to do to make everything happen. I'm also lucky to have them as sounding boards to brainstorm and collaborate, " she said.

Reece Farinas, who has been helping at the shop since he was a little kid, manages sales and operations, while his brother Beau Farinas does the bookkeeping. Reece Farinas and his wife, Jaime, have been in charge of the store's new online division, The Hawaii Lei Stand, which has been serving mostly mainland customers since 2018.

"We have a lot of fun, it doesn't feel like work, " he said. "We definitely put our heart and soul into every flower arrangement or bouquet or lei that we make, and I think it shows because we have customers who have been (with us ) for decades. It's our relationship that we work on first with our customers."

For every product made for a special occasion, he said, "there's an emotion involved that we are trying to convey, so if we don't have a connection with our customer, we can't help them express the emotion in the best way. As much as we can, we try to personalize our flowers for that occasion."

The business won the 2018 Generational Award from the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce, he said.

Farinas is looking forward to his daughter Olivia becoming the fifth generation to carry on their legacy. Only 2, she already loves to arrange flowers in a cup, take a bath with floating flower petals and likes to help put lei into boxes.