homepage logo

Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate gives back during tough times

By Staff | Apr 16, 2020

“We take seriously our kuleana to malama (care for) and cultivate the land, and to continuously give back to the community in which we live,” said Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate CEO and founder Dr. Gunars Valkirs. “We want to establish a business model for others to follow that can spread across industries to benefit many sectors of Maui.” PHOTO BY BRYAN BERKOWITZ.

LAHAINA – In these challenging times, Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate (MKEC) has turned to its “Chocolate Kuleana” mission, sharing the positive effects of chocolate within the community.

Kuleana is a Hawaiian word meaning responsibility and privilege, and MKEC takes this task seriously.

Maui’s only farm-to-bar chocolate company reached out to its corporate partners during these anxiety-filled weeks due to COVID-19, taking free boxes of bulk five-gram pieces of chocolate to local restaurants for them to give away to customers with every takeout order.

MKEC’s corporate partners are the hotels and restaurants that make up the company’s wholesale market chain by purchasing gift boxes for retail sales and customer amenities, and buying chocolate for their restaurants.

MKEC then took it one step further, reaching out not only to its local partners, but also to all community members sheltering in place and in need of aloha.

The company’s CEO and founder, Dr. Gunars Valkirs, personally curated Shelter in Place gift collections of dark and dark milk chocolate ($50 value) and offered them free as a makana (gift) during this difficult time.

To help defray the cost of shipping, MKEC only charged a discounted $10 flat rate for domestic orders. After the company made the announcement (with a limited offer, one per customer) via its database, the company received 1,000 orders in two days.

“Giving chocolate to our corporate partners and giving chocolate to the community is the right thing to do in these stressful times,” Dr. Valkirs said. “We want to reinforce this reciprocal relationship.

“Our corporate partners support us; we support them. The community supports us; we support the community. We feel strongly that if we can do something to help bring a smile or enjoyment to people, it’s worth doing.”

Dr. Valkirs is a full-time Kapalua resident and former biotech entrepreneur who came out of retirement to increase his service to the Maui community.

With a Ph.D. in Physics and as the inventor of the first fast and sensitive pregnancy test, Valkirs is uniquely qualified to address concerns about this virus and food safety.

As a food manufacturer, MKEC is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as well as the state Department of Health.

It follows stringent safety measures to ensure the high quality of each and every piece of chocolate.

With the current COVID-19 crisis, MKEC has increased its safety procedures and instituted extra measures beyond all standards to ensure that the chocolate is safe and pristine.

MKEC began in 2013, when Valkirs leased 50 acres of former sugarcane land from Kamehameha Schools and began planting trees for shade and windbreak to shelter the first grove of new cacao trees.

Today, the farm covers 20 acres with approximately 6,000 to 7,000 cacao trees, and 12,000 trees in total. In spring 2018, Maui Ku’ia Estate harvested its first cacao crop. This year’s March 2020 harvest was the largest yet.

MKEC provides the full farm-to-bar experience -the only one of its kind in Hawaii.

The company makes premium chocolate from the world’s finest cacao – international award-winning Costa Esmeraldas from a single-family estate in Ecuador and harvested growing wild in the jungles of the Amazon – as well as grown and harvested right here on Maui, in the ahupua’a of Ku’ia. All chocolate is made in a 100 percent solar-powered factory in Lahaina.

Just announced, MKEC is the recipient of the 2020 Sustainability ‘Aipono Award. The annual ‘Aipono Awards dinner presented by Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine has been postponed due to COVID-19, but this nomination-based award, presented by Pacific Biodiesel, was no surprise to those witnessing the factory’s thoughtful design and construction. Valkirs noted in his acceptance remarks that the award recognizes the sustainable nature of the building itself, but also of helping and serving your community.

MKEC’s corporate partners include Mama’s Fish House; Merriman’s Kapalua; Taverna; Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea; Andaz Maui at Wailea; Honu; Wailea Beach Villas; The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua; Ho’olei; The Westin Maui Resort & Spa; Lahaina Shores; Napili Kai Beach Resort; and Na Hoaloha ‘Ekolu restaurants Star Noodle and Old Lahaina Luau.

MKEC’s brand new Retail Store & Chocolate Factory officially opened its doors at Lahaina Business Park on March 15, but now due to current COVID-19 restrictions, the store is temporarily closed.

Once the threat has passed, the public will again be welcomed to the spacious retail store, where visitors can browse the chocolate tasting bar, watch videos of the harvesting process, and enjoy custom-made chocolate drinks and grab-and-go desserts made exclusively for MKEC by local bakers with Ku’ia chocolate.

To see how chocolate goes from bean to bar, visitors can peek through the plate-glass viewing windows right into the factory or view the production process via live video screens in the store. Visitors can also take their chocolate upstairs to the scenic second floor, open-air Ku’ia Pavilion.

Keep updated with all things Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate, including the Shelter in Place gift collection, at mauichocolate.com. Purchase chocolate and subscribe to the newsletter at mauichocolate.com, or visit “Maui Chocolate” on Instagram.