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Bob Furuike: Creator of Delite-ful Pies at Gardena’s Pie Kitchen

Some of my favorite memories of childhood were of eating a slice of Citrus Delite pie, the signature dessert at Pie Kitchen in Gardena. Bright orange and yellow circles of tangy meringue on top of vanilla custard and a crisp, flaky crust—Citrus Delite tasted of summer evenings visiting with family and friends.

Whenever we stopped in Gardena to see Nana, we always made sure to make a run to Pie Kitchen on Redondo Beach Boulevard, next to McDonald’s and H Salt Fish and Chips. The storefront is still there today, now the location of Burnt Tortilla To Go.

Even as King’s Hawaiian and other bakeries have come to the Southland, I’ve reminisced about Citrus Delite and wondered if anyone could recreate the recipe. Other fans of Pie Kitchen had their favorites such as the Pineapple Royale, apple, strawberry and pumpkin pies.

1969 - Mayor Edmund Russ, Nancy Furuike, Pie Kitchen Manager Ron Clayton, and Bob Furuike

Bob Furuike, 91, is the master baker behind the sublime pies of Pie Kitchen. He and his wife, Nancy, opened Pie Kitchen in 1969, and throughout its history Furuike was the sole pie-maker. He not only had a knack for inventing delicious desserts, but Furuike has an engineer’s meticulous attention to detail, an entrepreneur’s spirit and a Nisei’s willingness to work incredibly hard.

Furuike was born and raised in Sacramento where he grew up raising strawberries in a large family of eight brothers and sisters.

A self-proclaimed “city kid,” Furuike exclaimed, “I couldn’t wait to get off the farm!”

The family was incarcerated at Poston II in Arizona during World War II. When they returned to Sacramento, Furuike developed a knack for auto mechanics. Once he graduated from Sacramento High School, he immediately joined the Air Force, where he served as an aerial gunner from 1950 to 1955.

Nancy and Bob Furuike

Furuike moved to Southern California and attended L.A. City College and Cal State L.A. on the GI Bill. He smiled as he recalled meeting Nancy Kawata on New Year’s Eve in 1958. Nancy says that she liked Furuike because he seemed smart. The couple got married in Las Vegas on July 4, 1959. Daughter Tracy was born in 1960, followed by son, Todd, in 1962.

Furuike worked as an engineer at US Electric Motors, but his adventurous spirit led him to try different ventures. In 1962 he purchased Action Building Center, a hardware and lumberyard on Rosecrans in Gardena, operating the lumberyard until 1968. The family moved to Gardena from Los Angeles to be close to the business.

“I wanted to go into business. A friend was working there and said the owner wanted to sell the business and so we bought it,” Furuike said.

ABC was the place to go for lumber and building supplies, but somehow Furuike wanted to try his hand at a new venture in food.

“I always wanted to get into the food industry. Couldn’t think of anything other than making pies,” Furuike said.

“Nancy didn’t want a restaurant because we’d be working while everyone else was having fun. I had a friend who was a salesman for a bakery and he said he could help me open a pie shop.”

Original Pie Kitchen pie tin

Furuike described the beginnings of Pie Kitchen as chaotic. On their first day, he received the wrong flour for the pie crust, which delayed the opening of Pie Kitchen by a full week.

As a good baker knows, the secret to great pie is in the crust. More than just butter, water and flour, it requires precision and technique. Worked too much, the crust can become tough.

“I started off by trying to develop a good flaky crust,” Furuike said. “Become one with the dough, connecting with the dough.”

A friend who specialized in pizza crust, Rita Palmieri, said the dough was missing a crucial ingredient: salt. “Tried adding the salt and it clicked just like that,” he said.

Furuike described developing recipes for pastry and fillings as almost a Zen process.

“I decided if I’m going to develop anything unique to my Pie Kitchen then I had to live in it, I had to be part of it, part of the Pie Kitchen. So I put myself into almost a trance in order to develop that idea. That’s how I was able to develop new pies like the Pineapple Royale and Citrus Delight.”

As word got out, Pie Kitchen became popular. For their first Thanksgiving, Furuike limited the list of pies available to pumpkin, apple, pumpkin chiffon, and of course, Citrus Delite.

Furuike made all the pies himself, but also had help from family and friends. Nancy sold the pies, family friend Harry Lee and brothers Haruo and Tets also helped out, as well as Todd and Tracy.

Todd said his dad was dedicated to making the pies not only delicious but beautiful. “There was an art to it and the pride in making it pretty,” Todd said.

That first Thanksgiving, he worked 36 hours, making about 750 pies, including more than 300 pumpkin pies,120 apple and 50 Citrus Delite. Thanksgiving was the busiest time. On a regular day they would sell 100 pies.

2022 - Nancy and Bob at their grandson’s football game

In 1978, Furuike returned to engineering, working at TRW in El Segundo. He would get up early and make pies at Pie Kitchen from 4 to 7 a.m., then head to TRW. After work, he would return to Pie Kitchen. “I was a workaholic—go into work super early was no stranger to me,” he said.

In 1988, Furuike closed Pie Kitchen. A year later, he retired from TRW.

After retirement, the couple moved to Las Vegas, where they spent their days golfing, gambling and enjoying retired life. Furuike said he’s the sort not to look back. Asked about the recipes for his famed pies, he pointed to his head, “It’s all up here,” he said.

In 2021, the couple moved to Huntington Beach to live with Todd and his family. Todd inherited his father’s adventurous spirit, sharing that dad would take rare days off to take him skiing up to Mammoth. Father and son would work together rebuilding old VWs. Todd became chief financial officer at Rip Curl and held management positions for the owners of the Triple A California Angels and Single A Colorado Rockies Affiliate Baseball teams.

Tood, Nancy, and Bob

“He taught me not to be afraid,” Todd said.

He shared a story about appearing on the Saturday afternoon kids’ bowling show, “Pin Busters,” which was hosted by Chick Hearn when he was eight years old. “Chick interviewed me and he asked, ‘What’s your favorite pie?’ I said, ‘I don’t like pies, I like cakes,’” Todd recalled, laughing.

The Furuike family - Front row: Nancy , Presley , Blake, Bob. Back row: Todd, Monique, Marissa McLaughlin, Kevin McLaughlin, Tracy McLaughlin, David McLaughlin


*This article was originally published on the Zentoku Foundation website. 


© 2024 Gwen Muranaka / Zentoku Foundation

bakeries Bob Furuike California food Gardena Pie Kitchen (bakery) United States
About the Author

Gwen Muranaka, Senior Editor, has been with The Rafu Shimpo since 2001. Prior to that, she worked in Tokyo at the Japan Times where she still contributes the weekly cartoon “Noodles.” She attended UCLA where she received a BA in English literature and also studied one year at Waseda University. Muranaka started in community newspapers as assistant editor at the Pacific Citizen.

Updated March 2021

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