Maui Food Innovation Center


Looking over plans at the recent blessing for Maui Food Innovation Center were Cynthia Reeves; Jason Smith of Maui Bee Farm and a graduate of the program; Karen Hanada, director of Continuing Education and Training at UH Maui College; and Lee Nakanelua, office assistant. -- MARC ANTOSCH photo

Moving into new digs to:

Develop cottage-size companies into successful manufacturers of incredibly edible Hawaii products

Many of you have bitten into the sweet and yeasty brioche delights baked by Donut Dynamite owner Desiree Parada, or munched monster desserts by Maui Cookie Lady Mitzi Toro.

Yet these are just two of the successful graduates of the Maui Food Innovation Center currently located in the Laulima Building at the University of Hawaii Maui College in Kahului.

“We have 65 graduates so far,” says Chris Speere, UH-MC associate professor and coordinator for the MFIC programs. “More recently, 12 of our graduates were featured at the Made in Maui Festival. We have had quite a few people who have gone on to visible success.”

Paula Hegele, the MFIC Advisory Chair and president of MauiWine, hugs Chris Speere, MFIC program coordinator, at the recent blessing. -- MARC ANTOSCH photo

Other leading graduates include Dawn Anderson, creator of the OHi Bars, which are raw, vegan, non-GMO, nutrient-dense superfood bars now sold in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona; and Justin Orr, owner of HI Spice Hot Sauce Co. found at the Maui Ocean Center, The Millhouse and The Shops at Wailea.

The innovation center launched in 2013, when Dr. Lui Hokoana stepped aboard as the UH-MC chancellor.

It’s the first comprehensive food and agribusiness incubator in Hawaii, and its mission is to help develop cottage-size companies into successful manufacturers by providing both education and access to experts in the field. It also has a certified kitchen so that students may experiment on their food products.

Since the college has a building that’s been largely idle for more than a decade, plans for a new Maui Food Innovation Center to go in that space are in the works. The completion date is targeted for July, and the new innovation center should be up and running next fall.

A blessing was held Nov. 30 to show off the gutted area to be renovated to a group of VIPS, sponsors, media and graduates of the program.

Tina Keko‘olani is a graduate who produces Haleakala Supah Shots, which are a new twist on local favorites — chili pepper water and fruit juices. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

VIPs who attended the MFIC blessing included Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran; Councilwoman Elect Tasha Kama; MFIC Advisory Council Chair Paula Hegele, President of Maui Wine; UH Regents Ernie Wilson and Eugene Bal; Teena Rasmussen, director of the Maui County Office of Economic Development; and State Representative, Troy Hashimoto.

“The college has received a $7 million appropriation from the state,” says Karen Hanada, director of continuing education and training at UH-MC.

“Representative Carl Yamashita was the leader who obtained the capital funding from the State Legislature to build the 5,000-square-foot food manufacturing facility currently under construction on the college campus.”

“As a Maui manufacturer and business owner, I am very proud to be associated with the Maui Food Innovation Center,” says Paula Hegele, MFIC Advisory chair and president of MauiWine located in Ulupalakua. “This facility is an investment in Maui’s future, and will be a resource for building strong and sustainable small businesses in our community.”

MFIC is the first of its kind, and now all types of products are coming out into the marketplace.

Recent Maui Food Innovation Center graduate Veronica Jachowski has created Ono Bone utilizing by-products from local cattle ranching. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Alena Danskikh has brewed the idea for Maui Rainbow Tea, MiJin Kang is doing kim chee for Andaz Maui Resort, Joshua Circle Woodburn has oils for Maui Olive Co., and Harold Boxley sun-dries bananas for Sun Republic Foods. The success list goes on and on.

“We’re pioneers,” says Speere. “The program is the first of its kind in the state. It just goes to show that there are some really cool things going on at the college like these concept-to-consumer products made by Maui people.”

UH-MC is adapting and evolving as not everyone has the time or the inclination to get a college degree. MFIC is non-credited and it takes only eight weeks to run through the program, which is offered each semester.

“The non-credit programs are really resonating within our community,” explains Hanada. “In this day and age, it’s very different than back in the day when a commitment to higher learning was the norm.”

“Now my daughter can’t even commit to dinner,” Speere says jokingly.

Since Maui’s main industry is hospitality and tourism, it makes sense to promote Maui made food products “because food is so synergistic,” Hanada adds.

An example of synergy is the Maui Manjookies, a combo of cookies and manju that is all the rage around the island. In fact, Grand Wailea sells it at Cafe Kula.

“Cash & Carry store also sells quite a few products from our startup companies,” Speere notes. “So do the Maui Ocean Center and the Maui Tropical Plantation.”

In early November, three of the so-called “cohorts” of the program walked away with the top awards at the Maui Food Industry X-celerator Program sixth “Pitch” event held at the college.

“The event was an opportunity for participants to showcase their unique products and network with local investors, industry leaders and prospective consumers,” says Speere of the contest held for the last class of graduates.

“The pitch was the highly anticipated culmination of an eight-week training focusing on Maui’s growing demand for new food products. Markets for these innovative products are leading chefs, restaurants and food enthusiasts.”

Judges were Maui Brewing Co. CEO Garrett Marrer, Kim Minit Stop Hawaii’s Kim Robello, Tamura’s Jessie Ibanez and Central Pacific Bank’s Kyle Sakamoto.

First place cohort winners are Cymbree Kailiehu and Glen Fevella of Cymz Kre8tionz, who make ube chantilly tarts; second place went to Veronica Jachowski of Ono Bone Broth who has a initiative for “zero waste by producing all-natural highly flavorful collagen rich broth from local cattle ranching by-products; and in third place is Tina Kekoolani, who creates Haleakala Supah Shots with chili pepper water and fruit juices.

* Carla Tracy can be reached at


MFIC at a glance:

• To register: The next Maui Food Industry X-celerator program starts Feb. 4 and runs for eight weeks. It is non-credited and anyone who wants to create a food product can apply. Call 984-3690 or email Chris Speere at

• Location: Maui Food Innovation Center is ground floor of UH-MC’s Laulima Building in Kahului, with plans to move into the Pilina Building on campus next July.