Grandma’s: Keokea’s Coffee Tradition
Right across from Keokea Park, nestled in the vibrant jacaranda trees on the slopes of Haleakala, is a small cafe that has been quietly buzzing with business for over three decades. Right next to Fong’s General Store, which has a hundred years of Maui history in the building, Grandma’s Coffee House shares with its neighbor the same simple approach to getting to the heart of what people really want: great food, good people, and of course, good coffee.
Since the 80s, Grandma’s has been offering simple and authentic cuisine with a home-made atmosphere. Behind the classic storefront of green plantations with the image of grandma in the window, the restaurant serves breakfast staples like eggs, waffles, pancakes and homemade coffee at yesteryear prices. $ 1.50, as well as a more complete cafe menu with all standards. The menu also features cafe fare like BLTs, club sandwiches, and egg salad, as well as freshly baked pies, cakes, and muffins.
The interior of the little shop has a rustic charm that is humble and unpretentious but still pleasant, just like your grandma’s cluttered living room is pleasant. Old photos of owner Alfred Franco’s family, newspaper clippings and paintings cover the walls, creating a cozy atmosphere. Beautiful wood-covered tables cluster in cozy groups, with friends, families and singles gathered around them, happily enjoying their comfort food. Staff bustle behind display cases filled with homemade treats as customers line up to order.
The roots of this small town boutique begin with the story of the family of Alfred Franco, who migrated from Puerto Rico to Hawai’ia a few generations ago, “in search of work, like everyone else”, Franco said when we sat down with him over a coffee cake. on the veranda at grandmother’s house. Our coffee had been processed on Franco’s century-old roaster. “My great-grandparents brought coffee to Maui in the late 1800s,” he told us. His past, while influencing his passion for good coffee, also continues to connect him to the community. One day an elderly man, a former police chief, came in and said to Franco: “When I was a child, I picked coffee for your great-grandmother, over there in Kaupakalua across the street. from that of Calasa ”.
Alfred Franco is a man who knows how to tell stories and believes in the magic of life. The morning we sat down to talk the lovely veranda was full of Saturday brunches and full of clear morning light. Coffee and banana trees crowded around the gates, the view was clear and long, and patrons and friends frequently patted him on the back as we chatted.
“This place was built from tradition,” Franco told us. Growing up in Makawao, “everyone in the neighborhood was part of my family.” In the evening, her extended family would gather in her grandmother’s garage. Franco’s grandmother, Dominga – or Makawao’s grandmother Minnie – chaired aunts, uncles and cousins while the kids played and the adults played music and drank Minnie’s house beer. “The coffee, the food and the music are what brought our family together,” Franco said.
When Franco was 18, his father asked him: “OK boy, what are you going to do? With his deep family ties, Franco knew he could easily enter public service, but he knew it was not his path. Instead, he started helping his grandmother.
Soon Franco started selling parcels with a handwritten “Grandma’s Coffee” on the brown bag at the old exchange meeting, when she was standing at the old Pu Exhibition Center. ‘unene behind the post office. Then he started selling to around 20 stores on the island. “It was a labor of love. It’s something you do, not for the money, but for personal satisfaction, ”Franco said.
He did this for a few years as his cafe grew in popularity. Then he approached his grandmother and said, “This is what I want to do, but I need your permission.” After getting his grandparents’ approval, he knew he needed his grandmother’s image to complete his logo. “Just draw an old lady,” Grandma Minnie laughed, but Franco asked a friend to draw him.
He had to go through a lot of leases and permits. After also obtaining the blessing of the formidable Ms. Fong next door, who at first looked at him suspiciously, he began to jump through the county permit hoops. After years of running around in different offices without success, he went straight to the then mayor, Hannibal Tavares, and showed him his business plans, as well as photos of his family. When Mayor Tavares looked at his photos he exclaimed, “I was raised next to your grandmother! She has the best coffee in the world! He picked up the phone and started yelling at people. The ball was officially rolling, Maui style.
Initially, things were not a success; not much was happening in Keokea thirty years ago. But Franco had a vision. “The money couldn’t get there; it was determination, ”said Franco. He refused everyone’s financial support and started “with nothing,” he said. He also took care to read the signs of the universe. In the midst of all the permit drama, he planted scattered coffee trees in the courtyard of grandmother’s cafe. His coffee plants weren’t thriving and that depressed him. It was not a good sign. Then one day he went out and saw a little sign of growth in his coffee tree and felt like everything was going to work out. “This is how life is; you have to see the signs. I don’t know who in the business world would bet on this! he’s laughing. “We struggled and scratched, but here we are today,” he said.
And today, Grandma’s is on the map, with a strong local audience and multiple features on national television. Coffee also appears in international magazines and travel guides. None of this exhibit affected the low-key, local and authentic feel of the place. Despite international coverage, clients are “predominantly locals,” Franco said. “I’m doing this on purpose.” This was made clear during our breakfast, as regulars came and went, shaking his hand and even answering our questions. “The tour operators would call me, and I tell them that you are welcome to come when you want, but you will be lining up like everyone else. He also kept the prices very local; “This over-the-counter sign is eight years old,” he says with a laugh.
Much like the permits, the exhibition came because Franco wanted it. Years ago, while watching TV in a Kona hotel while visiting family – he had no cable at home – he saw the Food Network for the first time. “We belong to this show,” Franco told his wife at the time. Very early the following Monday morning, he was cooking in the shop when the phone rang. “Who is it?” He asked. It was the producer of the show he was watching, asking if they could feature Grandma’s. “Of course,” he said.
That’s not to say that Franco seizes every advertising opportunity, being more concerned with the intent behind the offers he receives. Last year, “Diners, Drive-in and Dives” gave him a ring. “I looked around the store, saw how busy we were,” he said. The producer told him that this kind of advertising can come with a curse, as sometimes companies can break down from being too busy and lose control over their service and quality. His ears sensed the negativity of his words. “I see the signs,” Franco told us. “You know what, I told him, we’re not ready for this. Thank you so much.”
It was not the last opportunity. Recently, Travel Channel approached him about Man vs. Food. Let’s go, Franco thought. “It came with a great atmosphere.” This episode will be released very soon.
“Magic in life is everything,” Franco told us, describing how he relied on that instinct of intuition to guide him throughout. Like the day at the start of Grandma’s story, as he jostled himself and just tried to get it to work, he went outside looking for a sign and saw a little spark of growth in them. coffee plants. “It was then that I knew everything would be fine,” Franco said.
But, in fact, it all went well, with hard work, pinches of intuition, and relationship building with clients and staff.
Franco is also someone who respects and believes in the people who work for him. He often hires young people with no experience and mentors them throughout the business, from dishes to cooking, baking, service and management. He retains his employees for years. “They come here and they don’t know how to boil water, but by the time they leave here, they can cook, go about their business, make sandwiches, they socialize; ready to go out into the world and do whatever they want from there. And they’re having a good time. I always say I want two lines: a line of clients and a line of people who want to work here, ”Franco said.
As the morning headed towards noon, we were done, although we could probably have talked for a few more hours. Every once in a while while interviewing people for stories there is someone to talk to effortlessly. Talking to Franco was like telling a story with his favorite uncle. The stories flowed, warm and energizing like grandma’s coffee, and laughter came easily. I could easily imagine her story, her grandparents’ garage filled with extended family, her grandmother the matriarch who presided over everyone, busy pouring her her hand roasted coffee. We left with the impression that he had given us a little more than his stories.
On the way out, his oldest employee came out of the kitchen to show us something. “Welcome to Maui’s number two cafe!” he joked as he opened MauiTime’s “Best Of” issue, where Grandma didn’t quite make the cut. “He’s been doing this all day, to every customer,” Franco said, laughing and leading us outside.
Franco is someone who enjoys this kind of entertainment, who trusts his instincts and his staff. “Magic is everywhere; you can create whatever you want, ”he told us. “I did it.” And that’s what he did.
Cover design by Darris Hurst
Photos by Sean Michael Hower
For more gourmet news, visit: