New brewery on tap for Pukalani
April opening slated for Mahalo Aleworks
PUKALANI — A new small business has a big goal of bringing Maui residents together when the pandemic has forced them apart.
Owners of Mahalo Aleworks — a 3,500-square-foot taproom and brewery slated to open in April at Kulamalu Town Center — said their location will be intimate and communal, where people can connect over 100-percent local-made beer.
“The craziest thing was we literally created this place to bring people together,” said Ben Kopf, brewer and owner with his wife, Jacquelyn. “And now that’s the one thing you’re not supposed to do with COVID.”
The Upcountry taproom and brewery houses two American white oak foeders — massive barrels — each with “mother beers” comprising local wild yeast and bacterial cultures that will produce most of Mahalo Aleworks’ sour and wild beers. A wall of stacked tanks will blend, fruit and age an array of unique beers. Also, various wood-aging methods will bring exotic woods to the mix. Classics and trends will be offered, along with collaborations with brewers from around the world.
Mahalo Aleworks is one of a handful of businesses in the pandemic’s hard-hit restaurant and bar sector that is taking the risk of opening a brick-and-mortar location. The Kopfs had been planning the Pukalani spot for years, but when COVID-19 struck, everything changed, Kopf said.
“We had a meticulous business model, business plan, and basically went and threw it out the window,” he said this week. “Everything from how we were going to do it with the visiting brewers to the numbers of seats, the numbers of beer in a day . . . it’s all meaningless.”
The pandemic has already set the couple back six months due to material shortages and other issues. Two-by-six lumber was gone for weeks. Equipment was delayed when businesses shuttered due to mandatory shutdowns. Then the Young Brothers shipping rate increase spiked expenses.
Opening a brick-and-mortar small business during a pandemic is “very high risk,” Kopf said. “At the point when COVID happened, we were too far in to back out.”
Using the online reservation platform OpenTable, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization compiled the year-over-year changes for Hawaii restaurants in seated diners, with takeout and delivery meals not included.
At its lowest in March, reservations were down 100 percent from the year prior and continued to flatline through May. As some rules were relaxed and businesses started reopening toward summer and fall, the highest point of recovery was at the end of last month, when reservations were down by about 50 percent from the year prior.
Statewide, the number of small businesses showed a decline of 58 percent year over year in April; since December and January, the decline has hovered around 30 percent, UHERO’s website shows.
The County of Maui recently mandated a capacity of 30 percent for restaurants and bars.
Luckily, the two are adapting, Kopf said. Although they will not be able to hire as many staff as initially planned, two full-time brewers have been recruited and other part-time positions are in the works. Also, outdoor areas provide safer COVID seating. Limited hours may be supplemented with tours and tastings earlier in the day.
The Kopfs, who have three young children, sold their house in California to invest in their dream of building a brewery on Maui. The Valley Isle boasts local companies like Maui Brewing Co. and Kohola Brewery but is underserved by local beer; the vast majority of all beer consumed on island has been made out of state, according to the Hawaiian Craft Brewers Guild.
“I really felt like this was a place that could benefit from having more local beer,” Kopf said. “Maui Brewing Co. is amazing. They spill more beer than I will make in a year.”
Kopf is knowledgable about beer brewing and consuming destinations — he’s been to breweries around the world, knows nuances of beer making in Germany and Denmark and will require that his staff be Cicerone certified, which is the beer equivalent of obtaining a sommelier certificate.
Kopf fell in love with brewing more than 15 years ago when he began learning the craft with his cousins. Beer, he said, is “perfect combination of art and science.”
“You get to literally express creativity for flavors and ingredients — but you have to know the technical side of it or it’s not going to come out right,” he said. “You know, with cooking, you can kind of wing it. But with baking, if something is off, it won’t work.”
Some Upcountry residents are looking forward to more food and drink locations.
Kaimanamaile Brummel, who’s lived with her family at adjacent Kulamalu Cottages for more than 10 years, said the Kulamalu center is missing a restaurant and bar. She said healthy communities around the world, such as those in Okinawa, Italy and Costa Rica, gather for one drink a day with friends, proof that food and drink build community and can hold positive benefits.
“We will get through this pandemic and we will need places to gather, to eat, to drink and to rebuild our community,” Brummel testified during a recent county Liquor Control Commission meeting. “I look forward to walking with my family across the street to Mahalo Aleworks and doing just that.”
Commissioners unanimously approved the small craft producer pub license during the meeting.
“I think especially during these times, I think we all need to applaud anybody that makes an effort to open a business, especially with words like peaceful and respectful as words that are kind of core of what their businesses are going to be,” Chairman Nane Aluli said.
* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.