Talk Story: Misha Taylor

Misha Taylor said she tries to add a sprinkle of the aloha spirit in everything she does.

“There’s aloha here, and that’s one of my philosophies in life — just to show as much aloha as you can. It makes the day go by a lot easier,” she said.

Taylor, who lives in Omao, owns Aloha Aina Juice Cafe.

Six days a week, the Puhi cafe serves up beautiful concoctions of acai bowls, juice and frozen yogurt sundaes, all made from locally grown ingredients.

“My whole purpose of doing something like this was to get as much local product as I could,” she said. “It’s more fresh; it’s really using what this island has to offer.”

It’s also just as important to protect the island, Taylor said.

“Everything I use is compostable,” she said. “It’s a little more expensive, but as a business owner, I believe that it’s my responsibility to leave as little as a footprint as possible.”

How did you get your start, making acai bowls?

We started about 3 1/2 years ago.

A friend of mine had the original juice bar at the Kukuiula Market on the Southside. She ran it for a few months and decided she didn’t want to do it. So she approached me and asked me if I wanted to buy it from her.

I changed the menu. I just made the recipes more my own.

I had no idea what I was doing. When we first started, our sales were slow. We maybe made $100 a day, and then fast-forward two years, I had five employees, we were busy all day long. We outgrew the space, so we decided to find a new space.

I always looked at places in the Lihue area because I always felt like there should be more. There’s a lot of people in Lihue, and there’s a lot of room to grow. Also, rent seems to be a lot cheaper. Lucky for me, this space was open. But I had to put in a full kitchen because this was an office space. So that was a lot; it took about eight months.

Going through the permitting process was a learning process for me. I already had a space in Poipu and starting off there was great because I didn’t know anything. It was a really good incubator for me to learn how to run a business. I never knew how to run a business or manage money, and the owners of the store were really supportive and really helped out a lot with making sure I had everything I needed to be successful.

I think that without being open in Poipu first, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Because as soon as we opened, we were busy. All of my workers in Poipu moved here with me. So when we first moved here, we had an idea of what we were doing.

Had you made acai bowls before?

It was a totally new thing to me; I had no idea. I had never had an acai bowl before. I would go to the juice bar and have the fresh juice.

She trained me for one day, and I just went with it. But I’ve always liked to cook and have always been a health-conscious person. I grew up working in the restaurant industry, so food and food service, it really didn’t scare me.

Is there a secret to making the perfect acai bowl?

The secret is not too much liquid. It makes it harder to blend, and you have to work with it more, which is why I think people put too much liquid.

Really, our secret is we make our own granola. That’s what really pushes us over. It’s my mother-in-law’s recipe. I really owe the success of my business to my mother-in-law.

Did you come up with the flavors?

Yes, they’re all mine. So again, my philosophy is as aina-based as possible. I look at things as much as I can with a Hawaiian viewpoint, what local ingredients I can use and what locals like to eat. That’s how my aina bowl came to be — it’s a poi-based bowl.

The niu bowl, with the haupia, is a dessert, you don’t see it much anymore. Locals love it and tourists are lucky they get to try it. With the aina bowl, tourists would never try poi, or if they did, they would hate it. So with the aina bowl, they can have it and love it.

Poi is also the perfect protein. It’s low in carbs and has no sugar, it’s really the perfect food. That’s why Hawaiians were so fit.

When did you open up at this location?

We opened up about eight months ago.

How did you come up with the name, Aloha Aina?

Aloha Aina literally means love the land. All of my kids attend Kawaikini Public Charter School, so they all speak Hawaiian.

When we had the opportunity to open up a business, I said I wanted it to be about loving the land, so my daughter said, “Oh that’s really easy, Mom, that’s aloha aina.” It was cool, she came up with the name.

How do you get your products?

Over half the products we use are grown locally.

I have about four farmers who I buy from on a weekly basis. There’s a lot of yardeners who come in with whatever, maybe they cut down a stalk of bananas, “Here, can you buy this?”

I buy, just from people stopping in, avocados, bananas, citrus. It’s funny because uncles who live down the street bring in their buckets of starfruit, and can’t even believe I’m giving them money for it.

Do you get referrals from people?

So now what’s happening, we are definitely getting more tourists. We ask them how they heard about us, and it’s the concierge or the waiters or busboys. It’s the coconut wireless, which is alive and well on this island. It’s really neat to see how it works.

Do you have a popular bowl?

The most popular is the Chunky Monkey, by far. I’ll be in public, and people will yell at me from across the parking lot, “Chunky Monkey!” People love the Chunky Monkey. I had no idea what a phenomenon it would cause.

It was a total fluke. The original menu that I had bought had a bowl with peanut butter, but it was just banana, acai, peanut butter. So I decided it needed something else because it was just too banana-y and peanut buttery, so I added strawberries to it, and then it was born: the Chunky Monkey.

A lot of times, recipes come to me in my sleep.

Why frozen yogurt sundaes?

We didn’t have frozen yogurt on the menu at Poipu.

I buy an all-natural frozen yogurt-based. There’s 10 different probiotics. I have a dairy and a non-dairy. For the dairy-based, we do an all-natural vanilla yogurt. Our other one is dragon fruit lilikoi.

I wanted to do something different. Originally, I wanted to make my own frozen yogurt mix, but I can’t figure it out. People love it, and you have to look at demographic of the area. We have a lot of kids after school and a lot of parents dropping in after soccer practice. The sundaes are a bit cheaper, which is nice.

Is there a popular juice?

People come in for the bowls. But we’ve been doing more juice. Our juice is great. We could make a juice out of straight locally grown ingredients. It’s all locally sourced, organic, brought in fresh that week. I love that.

How many people do you employ?

We have four to five people on a shift. I’m lucky; I have really good workers who take pride in what they do.

We’re in a spot where everyone is on the go, they’re going to school, they’re going to work, and are always going. So we try to be as fast as possible. We don’t want people waiting more than 10 minutes.

The bowls and juice we make are labor intensive and made fresh to order. Our thing is not a lot of liquid, so we really have to work the fruit into the blender because the last thing you want is a chunk of fruit in your blended acai. So there’s a fine line between just blended enough so it’s still thick but not too blended so it’s not a smoothie. I always tell my girls we don’t want the to be able to drink it from a straw.

Question: Do you have a favorite bowl you like to make?

My favorite is the niu bowl. I love haupia.

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