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Family tries to see son’s dream through

Maui Sweet Shoppe seeks donations to survive pandemic

The Maui Sweet Shoppe is closed Friday afternoon at Kukui Mall in Kihei. The business’ owners are seeking donations to help make repairs to the shop in hopes of keeping it open for their 8-year-old son to work in some day. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Among the many small business owners across the state, the Bradley family has been “doing everything we can” to keep their Maui Sweet Shoppe afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic in pursuit of a positive future for their 8-year-old son Jj Bradley, who has autism.

After a broken air conditioning unit last week forced the family-owned ice cream and candy shop in Kihei to close again, the family is seeking donations and support to reopen and fulfill the young boy’s dream of working there one day.

“This morning he said, ‘When I run the ice cream shop, I’m going to be super busy all the time,’ and so our business is really a focus for his future and that’s really what’s important to us,” said mother and Sweet Shoppe co-owner Nicol Bradley on Sunday. “To keep building this brand as much as we can so he has a future, you know, the world is tough and to be able to have something that’s his, to have a legacy for him, is our focus for our life and our business.”

After the pandemic forced temporary closures across Hawaii in March last year, the Sweet Shoppe reopened in the summer for to-go services and then for full service in mid-October following the resumption of air travel.

However, Bradley said that the family has suffered many financial losses over the past year, including a drop in sales, covering replacement costs of equipment and now inventory loss this month after the air conditioning unit blew out a day before Valentine’s Day.

Jj Bradley, 8, hopes to work at his family’s ice cream shop one day. Photo courtesy of Nicol Bradley

The South Maui heat has kept temperatures too high in the store, spoiling much of the items, such as the grab-and-go items like candies and chocolates for retail sales, as well as cotton candy, honey, ice cream and frozen fruit.

“We’ve lost about five, six thousand dollars of inventory at this point until we get this A/C fixed,” she said. “We’re really shooting for March 1 to reopen. The A/C is an old unit, so it has to be replaced with a newer compressor, so it needs updating basically, and those parts have to come from the Mainland.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

There’s much “wear and tear on equipment” when they sit for an extended period of time, she added, and repairs can get costly.

“We want to reopen as soon as we possibly can,” she said.

The family-owned and operated Maui Sweet Shoppe in Kihei has an assortment of ice cream flavors as well as many other sweet items for sale. The family is fundraising to fix their air conditioning unit after it broke last week and forced them to close doors. Photo courtesy of Nicol Bradley

The Bradley family moved to Maui about six years ago with their two children, initially buying an existing ice cream business — their first-ever business venture — and later opened the Maui Sweet Shoppe in 2018 in Kihei.

“We thought this would be a better pace of life for us,” she said. “Our retirement plan was always to come to Hawaii.”

With family already in the state, and with Kukui Mall in South Maui “making a comeback,” Bradley said that it was a nice place to focus on the ice cream industry.

“We just wanted to focus on making good quality, premium ice cream, focusing on local flavors,” she said.

Typically, Bradley makes all the baked goods and ice cream from scratch, while her husband, James Bradley, works at the front of the shop. Four additional employees ranging from 16 to 22 years old also help with baking and other store operations in the evening.

And when Jj is old enough to work in the shop, he will have plenty to do.

Among the Sweet Shoppe offerings, like soft serve ice cream, freshly baked cookies, milkshakes, shave ice, smoothies, edible cookie dough, dole whip, candy and more, Nicol Bradley said that customers have always raved about the giant ice cream cookie sandwiches, which come with 27 different flavors too choose from, chocolate-dipped frozen bananas and hand-mixed ice cream.

“The sweetest thing is when little kids come in and say ‘that’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had,'” she said with a laugh. “That’s my favorite thing to hear.”

While they’ve experienced the many challenges with navigating and shutting down during COVID-19, the family is still hopeful that they will be able to serve the community again.

“The future is still very positive, it’s just tough right now,” she said. “And I think every business owner feels that way.”

About 75 to 80 percent of sales were reliant on the visitor industry. The Maui Sweet Shoppe also supplied the Maui Tropical Plantation, The Grand Wailea and the Rodeo General Store until the pandemic cut those partnerships.

“What was really hard was that, Friday, (February) 12, just before the A/C broke, was our largest sales day since the pandemic,” she said. “So we are very hopeful with getting our doors back open. We’ve just had some significant financial losses over the past year.

“We’re down now about 40 percent in sales from where we were during this time in 2019, but we are seeing a steady climb and we’re really focusing on bringing in more of a one-stop-shop for everything sweet to build our sales more because we don’t expect our wholesale business to come back in the next year or two.”

Maui Sweet Shoppe has a GoFundMe page to raise about $15,000 to cover the costs of an air conditioning unit and other expenses to help open its doors again.

To donate, visit https://gofund.me/27addb62 or search “Help us save our Sweet Shoppe in Maui” on the GoFundMe website.

Visit www.mauisweetshoppe.com for more information about the local business.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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