Becky Burns started selling homemade granola at Christmas fairs in the mid-1980s.
Three decades later, the 66-year-old owner of Anahola Granola went from making five pounds of the health food a week by herself to manufacturing about 5 tons of the delicious breakfast item in her Hanapepe location with the help of 11 employees.
“It’s been a real crash course. I’ve been fortunate a lot of people have been welcoming to exchange information with me,” Burns said. “Even though the health food industry wasn’t developed 30 years ago, it is now. I’m very fortunate that the business is going along in the same direction the market wants.”
Born and raised in Washington state, Burns came to Hawaii in the 1970s and graduated from Chaminade University in 1975. After living on Molokai for a year, Burns came to Kauai later that decade.
“If I came straight from the Mainland, I don’t think it would have been a go,” she said. “I think that they saw, ‘She’s kind of crazy; she wants to make this food that nobody knows what it is; but she’s excited about it.’ People like somebody who’s passionate.”
When she started making granola for Christmas fairs, Burns set up in her Anahola home.
“There was a woman who had a store — Kilauea Market — and she said, ‘Becky, if you can find a certified kitchen, I will start buying your granola,’” she said.
Burns and her small crew found Rehabilitation Unlimited Kauai, a shelter workshop that worked with people of disabilities by the Wailua River.
“We baked granola there. I hired the people. They actually colored in the labels for us and helped with packaging and baking for three years,” before they shut down, she said.
After RUC closed, she asked herself if she was going to continue the company.
“Because so many people ate it, even though it was small then, I was like, ‘I can’t stop this.’ I opened a restaurant in 1989. It’s where Java Kai is now. It was called the Decko Gecko Cafe,” she said.
The restaurant business was stressful, so Burns sold it — three months before Hurricane Iniki devastated the island.
With the help of her “1980s lucky suit,” Burns took Anahola Granola to the outer islands and sold it to executive chefs at the Grand Wailea and Kea Lani in Maui.
“I would say they took pity on me because our island was so devastated. That helped a lot,” she said with a chuckle. “At that point, we were very fortunate because we got a small kitchen in the back of All Saints Gym.”
Burns said the location was a blessing because of the low rent.
“Anybody else not so nice could have said, ‘Next month, 30 days, you’re out,” she said. “Commercial kitchens are hard to come by. That’s where we made Anahola Granola until we moved here.”
Steward Hiester, Burns’s husband and Anahola Granola CFO, said the move was about the same time Costco opened in 2006.
“Costco wanted to get local products, so they brought in our granola,” he said. “That’s when we started growing. But even then, we were probably doing 50 batches a week at most. Now we’re doing 400-500 batches a week. That’s where we get the 4 tons to 5 tons.”
Burns said her company fills about 10,000 bags and bakes 5,000 bars weekly.
She advises young business people to grow slowly.
“Treat your employees the best you can. Don’t pay yourself if that’s the way it goes,” she said. “For many years, I had odd jobs. When you have your business like your baby, right, so you just make sure baby is well taken care of. You come later.”
Though business can be stressful, she emphasizes the importance for business owners to take moments to appreciate what they’ve created.
“You really have one chance to get on in the marketplace,” she said. “If everything isn’t the best it can be, then there’s more chance of failure.”
Burns and Hiester said their employees are part of the Anahola Granola family.
“Two of the people have been with us for 15 years. We have great employees and we’re very, very fortunate. They also care about this business, too,” she said.
Hiester said he’s proud of their product.
“Wherever we go, people are like, ‘Oh yeah, we know Anahola Granola. I love it and I treat my friends,’” he said. “There’s a connection people on this island have with Anahola Granola.”
Burns is the type of person who purchases local products and believes buying local is contributing toward the economy.
“Tourists, more so now than ever, in the 30 years I’ve been in business, really want to have local things that are different where they can’t find where they live,” she said.
In addition to providing jobs for the community, Anahola Granola donates granola to children who participate in the Walk To School Day program.
“We have underweight bars, so we give them to Eleele School and any schools,” Burns said. “If we have any extra, we do that to support the kids (who walk and are active).”