Sweet taste of success

LIHUE — After a quarter of a century, Aunty Lilikoi Passion Fruit Products is still going strong.

Owner Lori Cardenas wouldn’t consider closing the doors — customers simply wouldn’t allow it.

“I’ve had people tell me that they can’t live without my Passion Fruit Wasabi Mustard,” said Cardenas, owner of the business since she took over from its founder, Tom Cassidy, in 2001. “So I can’t retire.”

Besides, she’s still having fun — all these years later. The business and product line that was started in 1990 is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month.

“I think it’s great,” Cardenas said on hitting the milestone.

Located in Waimea, Aunty Lilikoi specializes in food and personal care items made with passionfruit, “lilikoi” in Hawaiian. Known as an island favorite, people from near and far make a point to stop by the shop in downtown Waimea.

“They say a lot of positive things,” Cardenas said. “I’ve heard people tell me that whenever they come to Kauai, we’re on their list of things they have to do.”

One of those visitors was Alaskan Joshua Stuber, who loaded up on goods inside the cozy store last week.

“I love it,” said Stuber, who visits Kauai twice a year. “It’s a must stop.”

As a retailer and wholesaler, Aunty Lilikoi’s creates products such as Passion Fruit Guava Jelly, Passion Fruit Butter and Passion Fruit Habanero Jelly. The business also specializes in mustards, sauces and dressings such as the bestselling Passion Fruit Wasabi Mustard, Passion Fruit Wasabi Dressing and Passion Fruit Kiawe BBQ Sauce, which is the company’s latest creation.

For those with a sweet tooth, Aunty Lilikoi’s also makes coconut and guava syrups.

Over the years, the business has earned a number of awards, which are on display in the store.

Most recently, Aunty Lilikoi’s won the 2014 World Hot Sauce Award and silver in the 2014 Worldwide Mustard Competition for the Passion Fruit Wasabi Dressing.

The Passion Fruit Wasabi Mustard and Dressing earned Cardenas the Grand Champion Trophy and Gold Medal at the 2005 NAPA Valley Mustard Festival Worldwide Mustard Competition, beating out big names such as Grey Poupon, French’s, Morehouse, Gulden’s and 300 other entrants from 19 states and four countries.

As Cheryl Underwood purchased multiple jellies and dressings at the store’s counter, the long-time customer expressed her love for the business.

“I think it’s a very good product and I’ve come here for many years and bought gifts and also enjoyed the product myself,” Underwood said. “I like their Passion Fruit Dressing and the Passion (Fruit) Vinaigrette.”

Cardenas said she wouldn’t be as successful as she is without the support of her hard-working team, which consists of her sister Helena “Lynn” Carvalho; product retail sales associate Angela Soto; production assistant Elliot Kaui; and her husband, Elpidio “Tony” Cardenas.

“We’re a diverse team that has different talents,” Lori Cardenas said. “We’re able to work together to make Aunty Lilikoi’s work.”

Under Cassidy’s ownership, there were five products in the Aunty Lilikoi line. Cardenas increased that to 46 items over the course of a decade. Personal care items such as bath gels, aloe shaving gel, moisturizer, shampoo and conditioner are also part of the offerings.

The store, which is located at 9875 Waimea Road, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

As the sales manager, Carvalho said she loves working at Aunty Lilikoi’s.

“It’s not a job, it’s more like an adventure,” Carvalho said. “We always find something new to do everyday, every day is a challenging new adventure. It’s wonderful that they made 25 years of being in business and I’m waiting for another 25 years.”

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