Ha Coffee Bar is community, good coffee

Coffee Bar has been serving up coffee, tea and treats since October 2013.

“Coffee is incredibly nostalgic. That’s the No. 1 thing to remember,” said Jeff Adams, owner. “People have had a particular cup of coffee in a particular way at some point in their life, and they’re going to try to bring it back.”

Ha Coffee is more than just a coffee shop. It also serves as a meeting place for residents.

And for Adams, that’s the point.

“At our core, we’re about community development. We are under the umbrella of a church community, but in the way we operate, it’s not a church,” he said. “There’s lots of churches in the area, so we decided to come in the community and serve a need.”

Adams partners with Kauai Roastery to bring locally roasted coffee beans to patrons.

“We buy local as much as we can, and that money goes back into the community. So that money you’re spending, it feeds people who live here,” he said.

As a nonprofit, Ha Coffee Bar works with Kauai Community Foundation, the Boys and Girls Club and other groups to rent the space for free.

How did you come up with the name, Ha Coffee Bar?

The idea of breath of life, we don’t take that lightly. It’s not a cheesy coffee thing.

Our goal is to breathe life and share life as part of the community.

Do you have a background in coffee?

Very little — we spent a year and half planning and did some training. But we haven’t run a coffee shop.

We moved here from the Seattle area, and built a team of people for the project.

What have you learned about the ins and outs of running a coffee shop?

The biggest thing we find here that’s been helpful is that it’s all about the environment. And how you create an environment for the employees. People want a place where they can find life and connection, and if you can create that space, the other details are just details.

We run like a typical business in the background, in terms of how we want it to generate its own income, and we think about quality.

But the No. 1 thing is this is creating an environment where people can thrive, where they can live and be part of the community. People will support a place if they feel safe and feel like they can come in for meetings and not get weird looks if they bring their own lunch.

That’s one of the biggest things we’ve seen. We knew that in principle, but seeing it in action is great.

How many employees do you have?

In the mornings, we have three people behind the counter. Total employees, we have eight or nine.

We have a very low turnover rate — almost zero unless they move. We try to provide a place that is flexible and a place where they have ownership.

The people who work here get defensive because they think of it as theirs, and don’t think of it as my coffee shop.

I tend to be here by myself during the afternoon. It started off because we were short on staff, so I decided to work myself. It’s become the norm, but I would never make my employees do it. Not because they aren’t capable, but because it’s not nice. It’s one thing to commit to it because of your personal schedule, but it’s another to say, “You’re by yourself, good luck.”

What are some of your more popular drinks?

The Bee Sting is probably one of our most popular. It’s made with local ingredients and it’s roasted here.

We sell a lot of Kauai Sunshine and espressos and mochas. Mocha is our most popular non-specialty drink.

How do you come up with the specialty drinks?

We were just playing around with ideas. We try to come up with things that are unique to the island, or are island-oriented.

We always try to innovate because Kauai is a place where people get bored with things quickly. They’ll be on a mocha or bagel binge, and then tired of it.

We need to expand menu offering, otherwise we’re going to drop off their radar and they find the next thing.

How do you feel about Starbucks doing the unicorn Frappuccino?

We don’t exist without Starbucks. No specialty roaster exists without Starbucks. We’re a bunch of hippies from the 1970s without them.

You have your boutique coffee shops with people sitting around and just hanging out — that model only expanded because Starbucks decided to innovate.

What it’s become though, is as it grows, you have a choice to either innovate what’s happening at the coffee side, or you’re going to innovate to attract growth. Starbucks’ primary goal is to expand their offering. Which is great, and they did that. The unicorn Frappuccino, there’s no coffee in there, which is ironic.

They’re trying to create niche things, which I don’t know if it’s necessarily a bad thing. But I do feel bad for the employees, and it goes back to the environment thing — I would have never done that to my employees. It was only for a limited amount of time, and they ran out of stuff.

Starbucks is less of an innovator now, and they’ve become more of a chain.

Why did you choose Lihue?

We didn’t want to take away from anyone else’s business. Our goal was always to walk alongside other places.

Not to say we would crush them, but even taking dollars out of their pocket, that’s not our goal.

What is the secret to making a good cup of coffee?

It goes back to the team thing.

We have a good roaster who does his job. And our job is to prepare the coffee, and we work with him to make sure we’re doing what he was trying to do when he roasted it.

He comes in once a week, and if we have questions, he can try it and give us his insight.

Secondarily, it’s not just stopping at the beans. A lot of people buy beans, and then it’s the syrups and sauces that go into it and getting a high quality product. You’re working hard with the beans, but then you’re putting things that aren’t so good on top of it.

You have to build the whole package across the board. You start with the good beans, and the ingredients you add to it, make sure it’s the best ingredients you can.

There are some things that aren’t as important. Here we do latte art. Latte art isn’t an end. It shows what we’re doing is consistent.

Consistency is hard. Coffee is not. The customer and what they’re getting is our main goal, so whatever they’re getting, we want them to enjoy it as we would.

We get customers from around the world. And we can make a drink however they want to make it, but the issue is figuring out what they want because someone from Australia is going to want something different from someone form New Zealand. And somebody from California is going to want something different.

There are three our four different kinds of cappuccinos. An Italian cappuccino has a lot of foam. An Australian cappuccino has chocolate in it. A California cappuccino, they use latte art, so that’s not a lot of foam.

These days, you have to ask those questions so the customer gets what they want.

What’s been the most rewarding part of opening up Ha Coffee Bar?

People really make it theirs. That’s been the best part, it’s a space where they feel at home and feel safe. They feel like they can be who they are and thrive.

It’s just a coffee shop, but when people take something that’s just a coffee shop, and turn it around to make it something that’s bigger for them, that validates the work we put in.

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