WAIMEA — Lynn Carvalho, a 15-year veteran with Aunty Lilikoi Passion Fruit Products, said the most important thing about the Waimea showroom and factory is “We’re open!”
“There was a huge outcry from around the globe when Lori Cardenas announced her intention to retire,” said Melissa McFerrin-Warrack, who accepted the commercial-grade whisk from Cardenas.
“We have been open during the transition, and effective Oct. 1, Aunty Lilikoi in Waimea will go back to its regular hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.”
Following 19 years of pumping out award-winning products created from passion fruit, or lilikoi, Cardenas said COVID-19 made the decision for her.
“If I were 10 years younger,” Cardenas said in her “farewell” email that arrived in late March when the novel coronavirus was taking root on Kaua‘i, “I may have decided to stay in the fight. I wanted to share with you that after much discussion, number-crunching — and prayer — Tony and I have decided to close our business. This option was the only one that made any sense to us.”
Meanwhile, in the unprecedented times and condition of the virus, another brain clicked away.
“I couldn’t see that happening,” McFerrin-Warrack said. “I became familiar with the products when Aunty Lilikoi became the first person to register when the Kaua‘i Made program started back in 2005. I’ve worked with the products through countless farmers’ markets, craft fairs, trade shows and Koloa Plantation Days. I also like to cook. In fact, I have pork chops with wasabi sauce waiting in the fridge to cook up after closing.”
The decision to take over the Lilikoi ‘ohana involved crossing a lot of bridges to cross before McFerrin-Warrack took over the whisk.
“Continuity, especially for the employees, is important,” McFerrin-Warrack said. “I’m familiar with the products because I shop here, and this is an opportunity to invest back to the island, to keep Aunty Lilikoi as the center of town. This was an opportunity to expand Aunty Lilikoi to the next generation.”
Cardenas said Aunty Lilikoi under her hand was not the first.
“It started with Tom Cassidy — he’s Sue Kanoho’s dad — back in the 1990s,” Cardenas said. “He launched the business with five products. When he decided it was time to retire, we bought the business from him in 2001.
“We have been operating Aunty Lilikoi for nearly 19 years. During this time, we have survived 9/11, the economic crash of 2006, and all the other lumps and bumps that come with operating a small manufacturing business in Hawai‘i — on a neighbor island, no less.
“With the help of our staff, customers and friends like you, we have accomplished things we never would have dreamed of. We worked hard, had tons of fun, and made many wonderful friends,” she said.
The shop in Waimea, besides being the factory where the Aunty Lilikoi magic takes place, also serves as outlets for the mui and other creations from Carvalho, the Salty Wahine Gourmet Hawaiian Salts that was founded by Cardenas’ sister, Laura Cristobal Andersland, Ko Bakery, where Morris Wise’s biscotti forms the base for another new Aunty Lilikoi product, and Ono Pops.
“We’re not done, yet,” McFerrin-Warrack said. “We were open throughout the pandemic. Our staff — we’re all part of the Aunty Lilikoi family — Lynn and Makani Leoiki-Kaohelauli‘i, have volumes of recipes from customers who use the products and found success, Jim, my husband, will be in charge of production, and through the Rise to Work program, we were able to bring Kendall Andersland back. This is the Aunty Lilikoi ‘ohana that Lynn writes personal notes in almost all of the orders going out, and is the flavor of Aunty Lilikoi.”
Finnegan, the Warracks’ son, poked his head from behind the tablet he was engrossed with.
“And what about me?” he asked.
“He’s Cousin Lilikoi,” McFerrin-Warrack said. “He has his road ahead, and one day he’ll become ‘Bradda Lilikoi,’ or even ‘Uncle Lilikoi.’”