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It’s no piece of cake running a Chinatown business

    By Joanna Georgiev. February 27, 2013 - 2:04 pm

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Otto Cake is one of the most popular go-to’s in Chinatown. Photos by: Joanna Georgiev

He goes simply by the name Otto.

Otto, owner of Otto Cake, starts his day at 5:00 a.m. everyday cranking out cheesecakes for customers and the nine businesses he supplies. 

He started experimenting 23 years ago when his mother’s favorite bakery went out of business.

Otto began with a simple recipe that he perfected and now creates over 161 different flavors – from his best-selling Amazing Plain to sweet and salty Maple Bacon.

He set-up shop in Chinatown in 2009 next to Christian Trinity Community Church across from Smith-Beretania Urban Park.

While Otto would like to concentrate solely on baking and tending to his store, he feels inclined to be a watchdog for Chinatown’s neighborhood.

Since his time at his boutique location in Chinatown he has been attacked three times by drug dealers.

“I had to pretend I was passed out in order for the guy to get his hands off my neck,” Otto said.  “I tried explaining to the cops that the man had done this to me and everyone on the street lied and pointed their fingers at me as being the instigator.”

Last year, Otto painted the word “HELP” in vivid, bold, capital red letters on his shop windows to express his concern of the area not being safe. He also had his customers knock on his door for entry.

Since the attacks he is become concerned that the location is dangerous for his customers, his employees and himself.

 “I would really like to find a new place because above all I want my customers to feel safe but at the same time I just can’t really put things on hold because businesses are relying on me for cheesecake,” Otto said.

In an effort to keep the area by his shop safe, Otto called upon Narcotics Anonymous Hawaii, a nonprofit that helps people recover from drugs.

The organization managed to get some drug users and dealers off the street.

Yet, despite their efforts he still sees the same dealers frequently.

Otto stresses the need for more policeman and wishes officials would take him seriously.

 “Sales haven’t declined, surprisingly we sell a lot of cheesecakes but I feel guilty bringing people, especially tourists into this area when it’s not safe,” he explained.

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Student Justin Drukis heard of Otto’s story last year in the marketing class of Assistant Professor Thomas Kohler and wanted to help out.

Drukis started a Facebook page to help Otto market his business, while the students of Kohler’s marketing class and the Student in Free Enterprise (SIFE) Club maintains the page.  In addition to this marketing tool, Drukis set up cameras to keep an eye on the illegal activity going on outside as a safety measure.

 “Coming from the military and family members being police officers, I take a strong stance against violence,” Drukis said. “When I heard about what was going on I just wanted to try and support Otto as much as I can.

“That’s when I jumped on the Facebook part and we started building that up for him and then I decided to put up cameras for him that can be accessed through phone.”

The marketing students of the College of Business Administration and SIFE continue to work on marketing Otto’s business through social media.

“Kohler’s students have provided me brilliant work,” Otto said. “I learned from them who my competitors are and how much they are charging compared to my prices. The information has helped me maintain a competitive edge and keep producing new and unique flavors.”

Although things may look shady around Chinatown, there is a bright future for Otto Cake.

Zagat ratings call him a ‘baking wizard’ and following La Mer in the Halekulani Hotel, Otto Cake scored No. 3 in Hawaii.

Not a cheesecake fan? Otto’s has brownies, coffee cake, and other confections to please any palette.

To experience heaven on a fork, visit the shop Monday-Sunday, but hurry because cheesecakes sell out quickly.