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Bonz hopes Lahaina will spice it up

By Staff | Jul 19, 2012

Gregory “Bonz” Heath displays new spices from Lahaina Spice Company.

LAHAINA – Popular Concierge Malihini Heath and longtime islands Chef Gregory (Bonz) Heath – two of the nicest people you would ever want to meet – celebrated an anniversary last month. But it was not 11 years of marriage. It was the birth a year ago of Lahaina Spice Company. The two proprietors formed the mom and pop company to put together love of spices with love of Lahaina. The company’s slogan is: “Spice it up.”

From Boston, Heath got the Bonz nickname – “everyone in Boston has a nickname” – because he was a skinny culinary worker. Bonz had strong culinary roots. His grandfather was chef on the Queen Mary.

After working his way up in the culinary world in Honolulu and Hawaii Island, he wound up as sous chef at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel.

Bonz and Malihini fell in love (she playfully calls him her missionary because of his New England roots). While Malihini did her thing (she’s beloved – that’s the right word – and one of the most valuable players at the hotel), Bonz moved on to Castaways on the Beach, serving as chef there for six years.

Bonz was always into spices, mixing his own secret blends in a pot for the cooks, discarding what was left over each night. His dream was to own a spice company, a possible path to ending a 30-year culinary career with its 60-hour grueling weeks.

Malihini befriended a couple of guests who happened to own a gourmet spice company. After missing a few visits to Maui because of the down economy, they returned at a perfect time to follow-up on a previous suggestion that Bonz market his spices.

The Bonz-Malihini team set to work. Bonz perfected the spices. For six months, Malihini and Bonz brainstormed ideas on spice names, worked with a graphic designer and ended up with dynamite packaging despite little experience in marketing.

The company’s logos include the word “Lahaina” with old-fashioned dialectic marks and an ipu gourd that carries back to older times. Forming the logo’s base is a hibiscus, the state flower, all topped by the best overline they could find: Maui no ka ‘oi.

The Chef Bonz spice menu features 13 selections, including: Kiawe (“it be smoking”) with Cajun seasoning, great for roasting, grilling, braising and poaching fish, or use as a blackening seasoning as well; Kula Garden Blend (Upcountry aromas), “awesome with chicken and vegetables;” Kaanapali Trades (“a breeze of gusto for chicken, beef and shrimp”); Hawaiian Grill (“grillin’ in paradise for all kinds of meat and chicken”); and the top seller, Paniolo Prime Rub (Hawaiian cowboy rub for prime rib, also great for pot roast, London broil and all finer cuts of meat”).

The hand-crafted gourmet seasons are mixed and packaged on the Mainland by Malihini’s spice friend. Back on Maui, the two-person team that started the company without any capital applies the labels.

The company scored a major breakthrough recently, when a Weber grill distributor in Sterling, Illinois, ordered 80 bottles with promise for more.

On Maui, Lahaina Spice Company products can be found at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, Maui Prime, ‘Aina Gourmet Market at Honua Kai, Maui Gifts in Maalaea and VIP Culinary.

At the risk of seeming that this column has turned into a commercial, it should be said that the original intent was to simply write a small story about a newsworthy company. But it was clear the tale of these two sweet people simply could not be told in a straight news story.

Today, Lahaina Spice Company is strictly a mom and pop business. If more people want to spice it up, its display spice racks may show up more and more around town.

Columnists Notebook: Meet me for a book signing on July 27, 4 to 6 p.m., at Barnes & Noble. Comments are welcome at norm@mauicommunicators.com.