The new Kona Coffee & Tea Company is located just off the waterfront of Kailua Bay in the North Kona District of Hawaiʻi. Owner Malia Bolton wanted to grow her small but thriving coffee brand in an established area with higher traffic. When Starbucks moved out of this location off of Queen Ka’ahumanu Hwy, she found just the opportunity she was looking for.
Malia first found an interest in growing and roasting coffee while working on her family’s farm, which began planting coffee in 1996. Although they were new to the coffee farming community, their vertically integrated farm grew a reputation for great beans quickly, earning first place in the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition in 2003. Two years later they built their first shop, a rustic shack-style building located on the farm.
Malia’s father was the interiors contractor for the new site. After completely gutting the Starbucks interior, they thought about what to do with the empty shell for six months. Inspiration then struck by looking up. Monkeypod trees were exsisting on the property, so they took that as a sign. Kona Coffee’s authentically Kona feel is perfectly expressed in the monkeypod wood used to craft their countertops, tables & shelving.
Kona Coffee & Tea’s motto is ‘Cultivating Community’ and that’s exactly what Malia intends to do on a larger scale in her new location. You will not find the obligatory outlets and charging stations which pepper the walls of most modern coffee shops. At Kona, you will find yourself in an excellent position to meet someone from the neighborhood and engage in actual conversation. Malia’s vision is an inspired gathering place for people to motivate one another as a community.
If the customer facing side was to have a “stay and mingle” feel, then the back of the operation had to be a well-oiled machine, delivering snacks and drinks as quickly and as consistently as the already established locations in the area. For this part of the job, Malia brought in Bargreen Ellingson and Stephen Marquard for their expertise in kitchen design.
For the equipment specs there were two important things to keep in mind: The humidity level of the area and the vision for growth of the operation. All of the food prep areas, equipment, and cabinetry in the back are stainless steel and positioned with expansion in mind. Refrigeration and dishwashing areas are scaled to service a full kitchen and menu. Details like built in cup & napkin dispensers, knock boxes, and strategically placed rinse stations are modeled on the efficiency of large scale chain shops. This facilitates quick consistent service from behind the counter, so everyone in front of the counter can enjoy each other and relax.
Currently Malias menu consists of the standard espresso fare plus espresso milkshakes, all brewed with Kona coffee beans from the family farm. They use an Amana MXP high-speed oven to prepare their biscuit tarts (quiche with a biscuit botom) and bagels. Right now their focus is on hand-held foods and tapas which pair nicely with their small wine and beer selection. Later on they look forward to more robust afternoon menus and collaborations with local beer companies for a branded stout.
Coffee farming is the oldest industry on the island. Malia and her family view coffee as their canvas for smart development of their business and preservation of Kona’s rich history in coffee cultivation. Through coffee, they hope to thrive as business owners and contribute to their community by keeping everything they do 100% Kona.
Stephen just celebrated his 10 year anniversary with Bargreen back in September and has worked in kitchens since he was 15. With a BA in Hotel & Restaurant Management from Michigan State, he went on to open many kitchens in the Pacific for Outrigger Hotels. He’s traveled extensively, working as an Exectutive chef in Micronesia & Fiji, before landing in Kona and eventually finding Bargreen. Bargreen helped him find that elusive work/life balance and rejoin his family for those important nights and weekends the service industry often demands of thier best and brightest.Stephen’s best advice to newer colleagues in his field is to stay committed to learning and don’t be afraid to express the need to research an answer before giving advice to a customer. Also, be humble and get to know your customer’s life outside of work, if possible.
For the Kona Coffee project, the time he took to get to know his customer was valuable because Malia and her family trusted him. They also valued his expertise when it came time to make design decisions. Stephen knew how important it was to incorporate room for growth into the kitchen design. This concept is directly reflected in the fact that all the stainless cabinets were built with removeable doors! When it comes time to add coolers below the counter, just remove the doors and slide in the coolers. The time taken to understand the customer’s plans for the future resulted in a beautiful cafe design which is also functional.When Stephen isn’t engaging his customers and helping build beautiful cafes, he’s out with his young family walking their new dog, Honey. His daughter walks the dog while his son rides ahead on his bike. He and his wife just “walk behind and give thanks.” He also enjoys backpacking, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding. Sounds like a man living the Kona life!