Sip Me in Makawao Brews a Big Dream into Reality
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They always remembered her name, and her chocolate donut.
Laura Wentworth recalls the old-style Montana coffee shop where her grandfather used to take her, where customer service was as important as the menu. That helped inspire her (and co-owner Shannon Murphy’s) client-centered style at Sip Me in Makawao, a cafe that opened in June of 2015 at 3617 Baldwin Avenue.
“I really wanted to make sure the people coming in here didn’t feel like they were inconveniencing the staff behind the counter,” explains Wentworth, who calls herself the caretaker and says many customers don’t realize she owns the place.
Her staff is extensively well-trained in the art of beverage making, following stringent European standards with top-quality Maui Oma coffee beans.
“You’ve got the barista who has to tamp it correctly, has to pull the shot correctly, the grind has to be on,” she explains. “There’s so many things that go in to creating a really good latte or cappuccino, or just even our house blend; it took us three months to narrow down the blend for our house!”
Wentworth had been brewing the idea of opening a coffee shop since she was 15 years old, even with no experience the service industry. She previously started an event-planning company that “didn’t go very well,” but says that experience helped prepare her for Sip Me.
“Failing in my other business is the best thing that could have happened to me to set me up for this one,” she smiles. “I’m terrified every day, but I think that’s a good thing because once you get complacent and tell yourself you’re successful, that’s when you might not notice things that could use your attention or you might stop thinking of ways to be more innovative. Because I’m constantly a little bit terrified, it really forces me to keep looking forward.”
Sip Me is looking forward to a second location in a former bank building in Kahului, which is currently going through the county permitting process. Wentworth hopes to have that coffee shop open, complete with a drive-through, within three to five months.
Wentworth says 22 is her lucky number. She beat out 22 other businesses, including some big brand names, to land that space in Kahului. That, after competing against yet another 22 companies for the Makawao location, which housed local favorite, Kitada’s restaurant, for decades.
She and her business partner Shannon Murphy lost their funding three times before getting the nod in Makawao. Wentworth says property managers there “really wanted to honor Kitada’s and what that meant and the mana behind it and the community-centered vibe, and I think because we represented that, they were willing to take a chance with us.”
Between planning and financing, it took about a year and half to get Sip Me from concept to reality. Learn more about the initial challenges and triumphs here. Wentworth says they just would not give up!
“I still remember we went to all these different banks trying to get loans and they were like ‘We can’t give you a loan, it’s too risky, you don’t know what you’re doing!’ and we were like, ‘You’re right, but just believe in us!’ And finally MEO, Maui Economic Opportunity, gave us our opportunity there,” she says.
Since then, she’s taken on up to 12 staff members, and is able to offer full-time employees good salaries and full health benefits.
“Our costs to run the coffee shop are a little bit higher than most coffee shops, which is why we got turned down for a lot of loans,” says says, “but the quality is really high and the staff is happy, and that translates over to the customer.”
That customer base is local and loyal. Wentworth is proud that 90% of their daily clientele are return customers. In addition to a range of expresso and coffee drinks, Sip Me offers a ton of teas, juices, health elixirs and baked goods, both sweet and savory, made fresh daily by three bakers in Ha’ikū, along with Maui Sugar Shop in Lāhainā, an organic, 100% gluten-free bakery.
“They’re really passionate about they do, we’re really passionate about what we do, but we’re terrible bakers! You don’t want anything I baked, trust me,” she laughs. “So we have been smart and fortunate enough to find people who do it better than we do!”
Sip Me, which offers free wireless service for customers, is currently open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Go to the Sip Me website to check out the menu.