No kidding: Surfing Goat Dairy is having an ‘incredible’ year
KULA – Surfing Goat Dairy, which sells products from cheeses to soaps, is experiencing an “incredible turnaround” from a year ago when costly drought conditions hampered operations.
“We surpassed $1 million in revenue for the first time,” said owner Thomas Kafsack on Sunday. “This year, we’re more than 18 percent ahead of (sales) last year . . . and our strongest month is in December.”
The Kula dairy’s line of cheeses, dessert truffles and goat milk soaps typically brings in $80,000 to $90,000 in revenue in December. Kafsack said that truffle sales already are up two-thirds from last year and he expects to ship more this holiday season.
“Probably in five years, I can close the cheese business and just sell the truffles,” he said jokingly, while adding that the dairy produces about 70 pounds of cheese daily.
Kafsack, who owns the 42-acre dairy off Omaopio Road with his wife, Eva, said that he has had to hire more workers to keep up with the demand, increasing the workforce to 22 workers compared to 15 a year ago.
“Just to make the truffles, I now have three people,” he said.
While the truffles can be found at Maui stores such as Whole Foods Market in Kahului and hotels such as the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, Kafsack said that they have expanded their reach to casinos in Las Vegas. The Bellagio and the Mirage Hotel & Casino began selling Surfing Goat Dairy truffles this year.
“That’s a huge customer, and we’ll probably have to put in night shifts for truffle makers,” he said.
Despite the recent success, Kafsack has been wary of overextending his business, explaining that the truffles are made by hand and are produced and packaged at the dairy.
“We just got a tempering machine for the chocolate, but (the truffles) are all made by hand so you have only a limited capacity,” he said. “You can’t find somebody who’s done truffle making before, so you have to train them and that takes awhile. Christi (Heinen-Sears) is the head truffle maker, and she gives them trouble if they don’t make them well. She is a perfectionist.”
Heinen-Sears, who also is the store supervisor, has been with the dairy for 4 years and remembers when the dairy only had six flavors of truffles. The dairy currently has 39 flavors, nine of which are a collaboration with neighboring farm and distillery, Ocean Vodka, she said.
Jasmine Crisologo, a tour guide and salesperson at the dairy, was selling the chocolate dessert Sunday afternoon at the dairy and said it has been “getting a lot busier with the holidays coming.” She said that the dairy expects to see a total of 60,000 visitors this year.
“For Thanksgiving, we get especially busy with a lot of people ordering (online and shipping overseas),” she said. “I think it’s been our busiest year in terms of sales.”
Although Surfing Goat has seen an uptick this year, Kafsack said that the dairy continues to endure drought conditions that have plagued Upcountry farmers and ranchers for the past several years. According to the National Weather Service, all Maui County rain gauges reported below average annual totals last year. Ulupalakua Ranch recorded a new record for lowest annual rainfall last year, measuring just 9.23 inches all year.
Kafsack said that his dairy received only 2.5 inches last year, and rainfall totals have not been much better with just 2.8 inches so far this year.
“But the problem will be how much more rain are we getting in the next three months here, so we can survive the dry months next year,” he said.
In dealing with the water shortage, the dairy has had to buy feed, fresh-cut grass and draw water from the county system to keep fields growing.
“Right now, a lot of grass is growing and the goats are very happy and we are happy because we are paying up to $2,500 to $2,800 in water bills here,” he said. “That’s incredible, so when we can lower this we are very happy.”
The dairy has virtually eliminated its electricity bill by installing more than 200 solar panels, which power the entire operation. This includes panels above a newly built section of its picnic area and parking lot.
“We had a high power demand with the milking machine, pasteurizers, fridges and freezers, so that’s a lot that we need,” Kafsack said.
He added that the extended dining area allows the dairy to accommodate up to 95 people for private events and large tour groups.
As the only goat dairy on Maui approaches the heart of the holiday season, Kafsack and his team of workers will have to prepare for the “crazy last weeks of December,” where they see their largest sales.
“It’s our Black Friday,” he said.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.