Brewing Up Some Success

By Mattson Davis
Wednesday - February 15, 2006
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Just hangin’ out at the Kona Brewing Co. are (from left to right):Shane Johnson, James Vine, Simone Cole, Mattson Davis, Steve Cole and Brian Fernandez.
Just hangin’ out at the Kona Brewing Co. are (from left to
right): Shane Johnson, James Vine, Simone Cole, Mattson
Davis, Steve Cole and Brian Fernandez.

Kona Brewing Company was started in the spring of 1994 by father and son team Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa. Originally from Oregon, the pair saw a need to create fresh, locally made brews with the same spirit and passion for quality that existed in the Pacific Northwest. Because of their great love for the Big Island, the Kona Coast in particular, they wanted to build a business that would benefit the island and would not harm the pristine environment. The happy result of this dream is the brewery and pub in Kailua-Kona and the pub in Hawaii Kai at the Koko Marina Center.

I came on board in March of 1997 as the general manager with the primary goal of running the day-to-day operations of the business and building the pub in Kona. I was originally told that we would have the pub open by June of that year, and I actually believed that we would. I remember all my new neighbors teasing me when an article came out in the West Hawaii Today quoting our pub opening for that June.

Well, it took till November of 1998 to complete this unique oasis in Kona, made of ‘ohia wood from South Kona, mahogany from a log pulled from the shores of Kailua Bay and rusty corrugated tin from an old ‘okolehao distillery to create Kona Brewing Company’s showcase. I believe that immediately filled a niche in Kona that we had dreamed of - a place where locals, families and visitors alike could come to gather and share the daily news over a fresh pint of ale or lager while enjoying gourmet pizzas, innovative sandwiches and salads made from local, organic ingredients whenever possible.

As an awesome aside, during that time it took to build the pub I fell in love with Hawaii, the Kona Brewing Company brand and all the customers we had throughout the islands. The fact that we were helping hundreds of businesses be successful by giving them the highest quality Hawaii ales and lagers possible was a great mission. These accounts became our friends and we supported them however we could. Kona Brewing Company coasters became our calling card, and we shipped more than 1 million of them a year. Today, we send out more than 2 million coasters to our accounts each year.

In the spring of 2000 I began the search for a location on Oahu that would provide the same sense of place and community gathering spirit that the KailuaKona Pub had become. I believe that the pubs are the ultimate marketing tool for the Kona Brewing Company brand, and through them, people can gain a better sense of who we are and what is important to us - quality of goods, ‘ohana, culture and the sustainability of the land we borrow.

In February of 2003 we found the location at the Koko Marina in Hawaii Kai, perched on the water’s edge, brimming with history and playing an important role in the community since 1969 as Chuck’s Steakhouse, John Richard’s and Akasaka’s. We chose that area because we wanted to support and provide a place for the local community while not competing with our brand customers in town. We wanted it to be a place where guests could relax, look over the water at the Koolau range and escape - a neighbor island experience on Oahu.

The Hawaii Kai pub opened in December of 2003, and today you can come and enjoy live music four nights a week, including our Friday Night Kanikapila that will give you chicken skin. Local halau spontaneously break out in dance, and Hawaii’s celebrities often join the band for a song or two. We work hard to stay very active in our community and support several canoeing events each year that are centered around the marina, including the Molo Solo and the Kona Brew’s Blue Water Challenge, a fundraiser to support the Sierra Club’s Blue Water Campaign for ocean cleanliness and awareness. We enhanced our original menu to include local favorites, plenty of fresh fish pupus and entrees, North Shore Cattle Company beef and a lilikoi maple pork chop. We are open for lunch and dinner seven days a week and brunch on Sundays.

What a gift Hawaii has given me - and the whole team at Kona Brewing Company. We not only get to work here, but we get to live, love, laugh and be happy, too!

Next Week: Ken Redman, Honolulu Zoo

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