HANALEI — “The taro must get out.”
That is Braddah Dave’s Taro Burger owner David McEntee’s motto, and it’s helped him get through some challenging times.
“Through hell or high water, and now even a pandemic, the taro must get out,” said McEntee.
McEntee doesn’t mean that figuratively. McEntee’s business saw high waters during both the 2018 April floods, Wainiha landslide and this year’s Hanalei Hill landslide. These events cut off the shared kitchen he uses at the Waipa Foundation from the rest of the island beyond Hanalei.
“We were getting the taro out no matter what. We (put) it onto forklifts and then onto a boat, boating it across the Hanalei River,” said McEntee.
For Braddah Dave’s Taro Burger, the pandemic was another big hit. About 80% of his business comes from the restaurant industry, so when restaurants shuttered or operated at a reduced capacity, the economic ripple hit the business like a tidal wave.
According to McEntee, selling his patties in retail stores was the only thing that kept the business afloat. At the time his products were available at Papayas, Hoku, Healthy Hut, Kilauea Market and Cafe as well as a few stores on O‘ahu and Hawai’i Island.
McEntee credits his years of taro farming on Hawai’i Island and Kaua‘i for giving him the skills and grit needed to get through the last few years. And, it planted a seed for a bigger dream.
Braddah Dave’s Taro Burger recently signed a deal with Times Supermarkets and Foodland. Starting this week, Braddah Dave’s products including breakfast patties and several flavors of burgers will be available at Foodland. Burgers are expected to be available at Times Supermarkets, including Big Save locations, by the end of the year.
McEntee is ramping up production for the additional retailers. In April, he was producing approximately 5,000 taro burgers per month. Now he is up to 10,000, and by the end of the year, he expects to be producing triple what he was doing in April. That will be a big feat for the burger producer who makes every single burger himself with just a handful of part-time employees.
By December, McEntee estimates, he will max out on what he can produce in the amount of time he is able to utilize the Waipa Foundation kitchen. He wants to continue to grow the business and is considering alternatives, including investing in a dedicated taro burger factory on Kaua‘i.
For McEntee, more taro burgers means more taro farming on the island.
“I started the business because as a farmer, (I saw) there (were) less and less people farming,” McEntee said. “My idea was to try to help the industry by creating a product for a new market that would help in creating a higher demand for the taro, raising the price to encourage more people to be farming it.”
From the kitchen where McEntee makes his burgers, he looks out at overgrown grasses and foliage and sees potential.
The land was once used to farm taro and perhaps one day it could be again. McEntee believes that expanding the consumer market for taro by creating value-added products will make taro farming more profitable and lead to more farmers returning to the land.
McEntee markets his products as “from Hawai‘i, for Hawai‘i,” which has been one of the forces that have helped him to expand his business. According to McEntee’s local retailers, frustrated by supply chain issues, are excited to have a local product that goes from the taro fields in Hanalei to the Waipa Foundation kitchen and then into local stores.
Braddah Dave products can also be found at several local restaurants including the Wainiha Country Market, Kalypso Island Bar and Grill, Java Kai, Anahola Cafe and Kaua‘i Beach Resort.