Editor’s note: Only the brave would dare to open a small business during a global pandemic. This is the final story in a four-part series celebrating entrepreneurs who launched their ventures under the shadow of COVID-19.
After losing their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ka‘u natives Janet and Ka‘ala Honua decided to open Honua’s Coffee House in Naalehu and have been balancing college with their new business venture.
When Janet, 22, and Ka‘ala Honua, 21, were laid off from their jobs at Ka Lae Coffee near South Point, the owners originally offered to sell the building to the Honuas, who were longtime employees.
Although it seemed like a good step, the young couple decided to pass.
“We didn’t know what to do with our lives, and were unsure if owning a business was a smart move right now,” said Janet Honua. “But every week after that, there seemed to be more signs and opportunities for us to rent a space to sell coffee.”
When the building next to the 76 gas station on Mamalahoa Highway became available, the Honuas jumped at the opportunity to start their own coffee shop.
The tenants renting the property left June 1, and the Honuas signed their lease June 5.
The building is historic to Naalehu, and the Honuas were excited to make it their own.
“Everyone has a different story about this building through the years,” Janet Honua said. “It’s pretty old, so we put a lot of work into it.”
The Honuas renovated the first floor for the business and converted the second floor into living space for the couple and Ka‘ala Honua’s two sisters.
Honua’s Coffee House officially opened in September.
“We weren’t sure about opening during a pandemic at all,” Janet Honua said last month. “But the community has exceeded all our expectations, and this has been going very well.”
The Honuas both attended Ka‘u High School and grew up in the community. Many of their friends and family have been supporting them through their first months in business.
“People have been so supportive of us since they realized we were opening a coffee shop,” Janet Honua said. “Some people pitched in and donated picnic tables for outside seating and a few people helped us spread concrete in the parking lot before we opened.”
The Honuas both attend college in Hilo and have been balancing this new business while making sure they get schoolwork done during the day.
Ka‘ala Honua’s sisters, Kanani Petrill-Abrogina and Kamalani Tuifagu, have been helping operate the business while the Honuas spend time on their education.
Petrill-Abrogina was working as a housekeeper at a bed-and-breakfast near Naalehu, but was laid off in the beginning of the pandemic. When she found out her brother and sister-in-law were going to open a business, she jumped at the chance to help them.
“I think we were all surprised when we were laid off our jobs, but we stayed patient and didn’t grow angry at the circumstances,” said Petrill-Abrogina. “Now, everything is going so well, and the shop is really succeeding.”
Tuifagu is still attending Ka‘u High School, but is able to balance virtual classes while working as a barista.
“Sometimes it’s hard to balance work and school, but I really just miss being able to go to class in person,” said Tuifagu.
Growing up in Ka‘u, the Honuas have a close relationship with the community in Naalehu and surrounding areas. Their coffee shop has become a small gathering place for friends and family to meet for a quick talk.
“We started offering Wi-Fi, and now small groups of students from the high school come in to do schoolwork together,” Janet Honua said. “That has been a fun thing to watch, because I wasn’t expecting anything like this at first.”
After spending their savings on this new, unexpected venture, the Honuas are excited to continue serving their supportive community, and tourists as they return to the island.
“So much work went into this, and we have had so much support in our little town,” Janet Honua said. “I think it is the best thing we’ve ever done.”
Honua’s is open 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Email Kelsey Walling at firstname.lastname@example.org.