KILAUEA — Carol Dumeyer and Dave Brune could be, under slightly different emergency circumstances, the quintessential Kaua‘i couple, and the classic face of small-business success on the island.
Dumeyer first decided to move to Kaua‘i just after high school in Southern California, in the 1990s. Her first residence on island was a tree house in Ha‘ena.
She didn’t stay long, moving back to the mainland for massage school. She returned on Kaua‘i in 2002. But it wasn’t long before she concluded that teaching yoga was more in line with her life plan. So she got her certification and started working as a yoga instructor in Hanalei.
In 2012, Dumeyer gambled big and launched Metamorphose Yoga in Kilauea. It was an immediate hit, and Dumeyer was able to buy out her original partner after a little more than a year.
Brune moved to Kaua‘i from Texas in 1995 to surf. Eventually, he established an interior-design and landscaping business, Designscape, in Kilauea. It, too, was successful.
Then in 2010, Brune founded Hunter Gatherer, a boutique that sells everything from books and cards to surfboards.
He and Dumeyer found themselves next door to one another in spaces at the Historic Plantation Center in the middle of Kilauea town, a shopping center better known locally as the “stone buildings.” They started dating 11 years ago, and on the fifth anniversary of that first date they got married.
Then, three years ago, they founded Trilogy, a gourmet coffee bar, also in the stone buildings complex. Along the way, they leveraged the traffic their businesses generated into a series of improvements they made to the shopping center on their own. They essentially transformed it from bordering on seedy to trendy.
“We brought life to this place,” Dumeyer said of the stone buildings center. She said she and Brune have a special loyalty to Kilauea. “We’ve always thought this town is where the worker bees live,” she said.
Metamorphose, Dumeyer said, has always been a labor of love, and has never turned a profit, though it supports a cadre of some of the most popular yoga instructors on Kaua‘i and a boutique that stocks a tasteful array of yoga-related merchandise. Trilogy struggled for its first two years, but finally reached profitability earlier in 2020, Brune and Dumeyer said.
Hunter Gatherer has been successful since it opened, though the high costs of acquiring and maintaining inventory and the bane of many small businesses here — shipping costs — have seen to it that the income stream was modest.
Along the way, Brune and Dumeyer lost their home in the 2018 storm and flood events that devastated the North Shore. Undeterred, the found other housing and moved on.
But what might otherwise sound like a fairy tale success story for two people who met, fell in love and dedicated themselves to running successful small businesses on Kaua‘i has collided with the brutal realities of COVID-19.
Today, all three businesses are shuttered. Metamorphose and Trilogy are closed completely, and Hunter Gatherer is barely operating, largely on the strength of Brune’s design business.
Brune has started to develop an online shop, and sees some longtime customers by appointment. The couple can’t afford to make rent. An appeal for rent-deferment or forgiveness to their landlord, Dr. Mark Nesselson, a New York physician, has so far not borne fruit.
Even though they’ve never made a fortune financially, Brune and Dumeyer have watched their three businesses grow and prosper and become a core part of Kilauea town. “Everything had gotten so good,” Brune said. “We were in a sweet spot with all of them.”
Or, as Dumeyer put it, “we had finally had that little bit of smooth sailing, and then we got the zombie apocalypse.”
Nesselson’s local property manager, Heather Ford, said she is powerless to resolve the rent problem, and is waiting for Nesselson to decide what remedies he may be able to offer stone-buildings tenants, which also include a hair salon, a clothing store or two and the Kilauea Fish Market, a restaurant.
Virtually the entire complex is shut down. The Garden Island sent an email inquiry to Nesselson through Ford a week ago. He has not responded.
Dumeyer has started offering yoga classes online five days a week, but the income stream — donation only — amounts to very little. Across Kaua‘i, the yoga industry has collectively migrated to the internet, but yoga is an inherently tactile activity.
Because Dumeyer has extensive background in massage, she is sought after, especially by students who have injuries or physical limitations.
Brune and Dumeyer sold off as much of the perishables — like milk and cream — as they could from Trilogy, but don’t believe it could be viable as a strictly carry-out venue.
They said their three businesses have benefited from having strong local bases of customers — the yoga studio in particular. There, the revenue stream has historically been about 75% local and 25% tourist.
Hunter Gatherer, Brune said, is closer to a 50-50 split. Trilogy drew heavily from both locals and visitors. With Trilogy, Brune said, “we had finally, after two and a half years, started making money.”
They applied for one of the new federal government Payroll Protection Plan loans and, after waiting for weeks for their application to progress through the bureaucracy, got word last week that the loan had been approved, though the formal notification has yet to arrive.
Besides, Dumeyer said, like many small-business owners, she and Brune aren’t sure accepting the funding would accomplish anything, given strings and conditions attached to it. Like most yoga studios, Metamorphose treats its teachers as independent contractors. Brune and Dumeyer do not take salaries themselves.
And like so many small-business owners, Brune and Dumeyer realize that the return of tourism to Kaua‘i will not occur soon, and the limitations of shut-down orders by Mayor Derek Kawakami and Gov. David Ige make resuming business for the yoga studio or the coffee house certain to be a long time coming.
Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker, journalist and retired public relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.