Restaurants, Retailers Support Maui Wildfire Relief

Bad Ass Coffee

Restaurants, specialty food retailers, and other food businesses across the country have launched fundraisers to support recovery efforts in the wake of the wildfires on Maui that destroyed much of the town of Lahaina.

The Touring Chocolatier, an artisanal chocolate retailer and gift shop in Justin, Texas, is promoting a series of truffle-making classes that will seek to raise money for employees of Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate, some of whom lost everything in the blaze.

“Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate is near and dear to us,” Kay Thibodeaux, president and head chocolatier at The Touring Chocolatier, told SFA News Daily.

Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate, a retailer and cacao farm located on the outskirts of Lahaina, was not damaged by the fire itself, but the 100-mile-per-hour winds that helped drive the fire through the town defoliated the farm’s cacao trees, wiping out both the upcoming fall harvest and next year’s spring harvest, Thibodeaux said.

Thibodeaux had visited the farm multiple times and had gotten to know the owners and employees, she said.

“They are all family to us,” she said. “We want to do anything we can to help.”

Touring Chocolatier has scheduled 13 truffle-making classes as fundraisers, and plans to donate all proceeds to the Maui Ku’ia Chocolate Estate workers impacted by the fire. The classes cost $35 per person, with 10 people per class, for a total of $350 per class, assuming they are sold out. As of Aug. 17, several of the classes, which begin Aug. 19 and run through September, already were filled, Thibodeaux said.

In addition, she said, one customer came into Touring Chocolatier and donated $350 to the cause, and another donated $100.

Meanwhile Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate — which has long donated 100 percent of its net profits to the Maui nonprofit community — said it would donate 25 percent of online sales to local wildfire relief efforts. The estate is known for its cacao farm tours, chocolate tastings and other activities, in addition to its craft chocolate-making operations.

Dandelion Chocolate, the San Francisco-based artisanal chocolate maker, also said it was seeking to support Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate, and was donating 10 percent of its online sales on Aug. 17 and 18 to the Hawaii Community Foundation, which is supporting local relief efforts through the Maui Strong Fund.

Hawaii-Themed Restaurants Take Action

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii, a chain of Hawaii-themed coffee shops in both Hawaii and on the Mainland, said one of its Lahaina locations, owned by a franchisee, was destroyed in the flames.

“First and foremost, we’re fortunate in that our franchisee, his employees and our strategic partners are all accounted for and safe,” Scott Snyder, CEO of Royal Aloha Franchise Co., which owns the Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii brand. “However, the devastation they’re all experiencing is heartbreaking.”

Chris Ruszkowski, chief marketing officer at the company, said Bad Ass Coffee in the week following the fire raised about $38,000 for the Hawaii Community Foundation by donating the proceeds of all online sales of Maui coffee. The company sold out of the beans, he said, but is roasting more and looking at other opportunities to participate in relief efforts.

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii — named after the donkeys that historically carried coffee beans on the slopes of Kona on the Big Island — has also begun offering “Love for Maui” coffee mugs and stickers, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to relief efforts. Several of the chain’s franchisees are participating in the mug- and sticker-sale fundraisers and have set up fundraising events of their own. In addition, Bad Ass Coffee franchisees have implemented a “round-up” donation function using Toast, the chain’s point-of-sale technology provider.

“It’s encouraging to see our individual franchisees getting involved,” said Ruszkowski. “We’re going to continue to look for other things we can do to keep this going.”

Another chain that was inspired by Hawaiian cuisine, Pokeworks, held a fundraiser on Aug. 16 in which 20 percent of the proceeds of all online orders were donated to the Maui United Way Foundation and the Chef Hui Maui Relief Fund. The company also set up a link to a direct donation page in its Instagram profile.

Ululani Shave Ice, with several locations in Hawaii and California, lost two stores in the Lahaina fire, and several of its employees lost everything, the company said in an Instagram post. Ululani set up a Go Fund Me page with a goal of raising $150,000. The company said 75 percent of the funds raised would go to its employees and the other 25 percent to organizations providing relief to local families in need. As of Aug. 17, the company had raised more than $110,000 in donations.

Independent restaurants around the country with connections to Hawaii also created special dishes and events to raise money for wildfire victims.

Jason Raffin, a San Francisco-based chef who had recently opened a restaurant in Lahaina, said he also “lost everything” in the blaze, and that both his home and restaurant were destroyed. During COVID, Raffin worked with other Maui chefs to create the Chef Collective to support people impacted by the pandemic, and has now transitioned that effort into the Maui Fire Chef Collective to cook for people in need in western Maui. The group is coordinating with local farms such as Hua Momona, along with other chefs, to provide high-quality food to those in need, Raffin said in a GoFundMe post.