Perseverence Pays Off at Sip Me! in Makawao
Despite a few false starts and a variety of complications, Shannon Murphy and Laura Wentworth will soon celebrate the one-year anniversary of Sip Me!, “Makawao’s coffee, juice and treat shop.”
They secured one location, then immediately lost it. After starting negotiations to secure another Upcountry location, they discovered inadequacies in the property’s infrastructure that would preclude its use as cafe.
But soon after, they found their current space at 3617 Baldwin Ave., the former location of Upcountry’s beloved Kitada’s Kau Kau Corner, which closed in 2003 after 57 years in business serving plate lunches and local favorites.
“Many businesses had gone in and out of it after it closed,” said Wentworth. “We found the building when it was empty—after a pilates studio left. We had to really call around to figure out who owned it and if we could rent it. Eventually, this led us to the Starr family—Brook and Hugh—who were in charge of leasing it out. Luckily, they truly cared about what went into the space. It was important to them that the business would enhance Makawao.”
The business partners attended the property’s open house the following week and stayed for all five hours to see who else might be interested and to evaluate the level of competition—which turned out to be over 20 other businesses.
“We really weren’t sure we had a chance,” Murphy said. “There were more established coffee shops interested in the space, but we showed up, business plan in hand, and really, really pushed hard to secure the location. In the end, we really felt—and still feel—it’s meant to be that we are where we are.”
“The mana there, because of the respected Kitada family name, just feels right,” said Wentworth. “Kitada’s was all about community and we wanted to be, too. We want to honor what they did in the community and continue it in our own way. We wanted to raise the bar of the current coffee standards, and bring back that old-style customer-centered feel.”
Upon inspection, the duo began their paperwork journey with the county and state—a trip that ended up taking 11 months to complete.
“We really, really had to work for it!” said Wentworth. “We lost our funding twice, and luckily re-secured it each time thanks to Loan Fund Manager David Daly at MEO Inc.”
“Along the way, we met other amazing people who were integral to us opening at all,” Wentworth added.
The duo’s model for Sip Me is the classic coffee shop, but with healthier, fresher, better choices that fit Maui’s active, healthy lifestyle, without breaking the budget.
Wentworth and Murphy said they really took their time to find the best suppliers and recipes for coffee and espresso (Maui Oma), teas (The TeaBox and Samovar Tea), juices, smoothies and their regular and gluten-free treats (Sugar Shop Maui), which are baked fresh daily.
“Our goal is to cater to both visitors and our local customers by creating an atmosphere where they can socialize, play games, conduct business meetings, or hunker down and get work done via Wi-Fi,” Murphy said.
“We really had to be tenacious and not let all the roadblocks affect our daily thinking,” said Wentworth.
“Almost everyone thought we were crazy to do this, or to try and do this,” Murphy said. “Even our families expressed concern, since neither of us had ever worked in the service industry before. We both have background’s in public relations and marketing, but have never even come close to venturing into service prior to this.”
Wentworth moved to Maui about 15 years ago; Murphy moved here about three years ago.
They met in a Muay Thai martial arts class and quickly bonded.
“We both had very similar ideas for a business, and these similarities birthed Sip Me!” said Wentworth.
The business partners did everything they could think of to make their business a success—from attending or “crashing budget meetings to meet the mayor and his liaisons to reaching out to everyone in businesses similar to ours for even the smallest connections,” Wentworth said.
“It really was amazing to see the entire community rally around our dream to make it a reality,” she said. “We felt—and still feel—an overwhelming sense of pride in our Maui community and carry a responsibility to really provide for our community. So many people went to bat for us, and shared their connections with us. Without all of that, I’m not sure Sip Me would even be a reality right now.”
Now approaching its one-year anniversary in June, the shop has been able to hire seven employees.
Before opening, the partners hoped to serve 30 people per day.
“Now we have almost four times that, and our customer’s have quickly become our friends,” said Murphy. “We really do our absolute best to go the extra mile to make sure that each and every client knows that they are valued, and know’s that we are truly happy doing what we do.
“That love goes into each and every pastry, espresso, smoothie, juice, everything,” she continued. “We know we wouldn’t be here without our clients.”
“Our staff, too, makes all the difference!” Wentworth said. “They are actually happy to be working with us… which is also humbling. They want our clients to be happy, too, and they take so much pride in everything that goes out.”
“We know how lucky we are to have this responsibility to the community, this space, this family made up of our own families, employees and community,” the partners agreed. “It’s been the best kind of experience we could have ever hoped for!”
As for the future, Wentworth and Murphy have recently secured a second location, this time in Kahului at 7 Ka‘ahumanu Ave.
They plan to open it on June 29, the one-year anniversary of Sip Me Makawao.
“The community has really embraced us,” said the partners. “It’s humbling, overwhelming and inspiring. But, that being said, it definitely has taken extreme tenacity, risk and hard work. But, it’s all been worth it. We can’t wait to see what the next year will bring!”
Sip Me! in Makawao is open Monday through Saturday, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. (hours will expand soon).
The Kahului location will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.