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Dairy milks any business it can get

As sales decline during pandemic, Surfing Goat Dairy fights to stay afloat

A group of kids feed a goat at Surfing Goat Dairy early July last year. The Upcountry business is trying to stay afloat as sales decline. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

Last July, Thomas Kafsack and his wife Eva-Maria were hoping to retire and sell the Upcountry goat dairy they’d run for nearly 20 years.

Instead, they’re still making cheese, have put retirement on hold and have sold nearly half the herd in hopes of keeping the Surfing Goat Dairy alive through the pandemic.

“We are hoping we can survive until the tourists are coming back,” Kafsack said Sunday.

Surfing Goat Dairy’s sales during the second quarter of this year have declined 90.2 percent, according to a news release last week. The number of visitors to the farm has plunged from 16,780 in the second quarter of last year to 49 this year — none in April, 12 in May and 37 in June.

Kafsack said the dairy used to make about $3,000 a day. After reopening at the beginning of June, the dairy averaged $52 a day over the first four weeks.

THOMAS KAFSACK – Owner of Surfing Goat

Total income for the second quarter this year was just $42,947, or 89 percent less than the same time period last year.

Surfing Goat Dairy was hit hard, not only by the decline in visitors — who make up 85 percent of the dairy’s customers — but by the closure of restaurants and hotels, as well.

“We get the double whammy because . . . we have nearly 30 customers (that are) restaurants and hotels,” Kafsack explained. “But because there are no tourists, all our restaurant customers, except two, are closed.”

For now, the dairy is “happy about any order we are getting” from Flatbread Co. in Paia and Sale Pepe in Lahaina, the only two restaurant customers that Surfing Goat still delivers cheese to every week. One employee visited “nearly every store on this island” hoping to get the dairy’s products into more stores, and in the process picked up new customers in Pukalani Superette and Rodeo General Store.

There’s been one bright spot during the pandemic — online orders have increased by nearly 83 percent. However, they’ve totaled less than $10,000, still not enough to cover the $25,000-a-month payroll and $1,000-a-week costs for grain and other goat feed.

Surfing Goat Dairy was able to get $124,000 in aid through the Paycheck Protection Program, which is helping to cover salaries from mid-March to mid-August. Without it, they would have had to close a month ago, Kafsack said.

The dairy, which averaged 21 employees before the pandemic, had to cut the eight employees who worked in the on-site shop when businesses closed down in March. The dairy is now down to 12 employees, who help take care of the goats, make cheese and truffles and cover administrative and bookkeeping tasks.

Meanwhile, the dairy has also had to bid farewell to many of its goats to help make ends meet and to reduce the amount of milk per day from the goats, who are at the peak of their milk production. Before the pandemic, the dairy had 254 goats. As of Sunday, they were down to 129. About 60 percent of the goats they sold were kids.

“The only money we made was by selling goats and a little bit of money from cheese and merchandise over the internet,” Kafsack said.

Still, the dairy and the Kafsacks’ fridges have had more cheese than they know what to do with. Unable to sell the milk and not wanting to discard it, Surfing Goat has continued to make cheese. The business has donated more than 3,300 single cheeses and 1,100 pounds of fresh chevre to the Maui Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, churches and food drives for hotel employees.

When asked how long the dairy could survive if the trend of declining sales continued, Kafsack said, “If I look at my bank account, up to the end of September.” However, he’s hopeful the dairy will stick around longer.

“We have a slight uptick in visitors and spending and internet sales this week, so I hope it works,” he said.

When the dairy shop first reopened at the beginning of June, it operated every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Now, hours are down to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, though daily revenue is still below $100 a day. Visitors are not allowed to enter without masks, and tours are limited to no more than 10 people.

Kafsack said he and his wife are still planning to sell the dairy and that there are interested buyers in New York and the West Coast. However, “they don’t want to come as long as we have this two-week quarantine.”

Last year, the 42-acre dairy on Omaopio Road in Lower Kula was listed for $7,990,000, which included the farmhouse, farm, dairy and restaurant equipment, a metal barn, a restaurant area and retail shop, fruit orchard, irrigated pastureland and — at the time — 155 French Alpine and Saanen goats.

Retirement is also still on the horizon for the couple, who moved to Maui from Germany and purchased 42 goats in the early 2000s.

“We are both 70, so that’s time to really retire now,” Kafsack said. “The old bones don’t want to work so well anymore.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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