Fires in August 2023 ravaged Maui, hitting its western side hardest; now the island’s coffee community is banding together to pick up the pieces.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Feature photo background by Stephen Broome via Unsplash
Early in the morning of Tuesday, August 8, with high winds gusting on the Hawaiian island of Maui, Emily Farrell went to her job at Drift Coffee, the café she managed in Lahaina, on the island’s northwest coast. With the winds causing outages at the shop, Emily closed Drift Coffee for the day, but returned to the café in the afternoon with colleagues to monitor the storm from there.
“We were hanging out drinking iced coffee, just watching the storm, and that’s when the fire started,” Emily says. “With how fast the wind was blowing, it was just inevitable that the fire was going to spread really fast. After a couple minutes, we were like, ‘We need to evacuate.’ The wind was blowing diagonally from where the fire was towards Dickinson Street, which is where the coffee shop was.”
The August wildfires on Maui, which became known as the Hawaii Firestorm, hit Lahaina hardest, killing at least 97 people in the town and destroying houses and businesses throughout the island—including Drift Coffee, which burned down on August 8.
“Drift was a tiny little shop,” Emily says. “It’s a pretty touristy area, but Drift was mostly locals and regulars. It was the hangout spot for everybody—on my days off I would go to Drift, see who else was there, and end up going to the beach with them or doing something else.”
Lahaina and the rest of Maui suffered unmeasurable losses in August 2023; now the island is starting the process of rebuilding—including its specialty-coffee community, which has banded together for pop-ups, local events, and more to start the process of healing and recovery.
Rallying for Coffee People
Social Hour Coffee Roasters is a Maui-based roaster started by Daniel Mauck and Ryan Hagler. After the fires, Daniel and Ryan took action, checking on affected coffee businesses and coffee workers—including Emily and Drift Coffee—and offering ways for them to connect. “The Friday after the fire, all our baristas went to the Social Hour warehouse and did a little event there,” Emily says. “We invited our regulars and did free coffee and just hung out there, which was really awesome.”
Social Hour has also been working on a pop-up shop, called Maui Coffee Collective; they hope to open it in early November, with all proceeds going to relief efforts on Maui. “Slayer Espresso has been kind enough to loan us a machine for the cafe,” says Ryan of Social Hour. “Our close friend and landlord, Mark Spencer, is taking care of the build-out and allowing us to use his space. The goal is to give employees who have been displaced by the fire a place to not only work and provide for themselves and their families, but a place to have community again.”
For Social Hour, bringing together coffee professionals and fostering community is a necessary action to move forward after the devastation of the fires. “The impact of this fire in the short term is horrible,” says Ryan. “Absolutely devastating. But the long-term effects of it will be felt for years, and our intention is to create a sustaining effort that will be there for the long, arduous road back to normalcy for the Westside and for all of Maui. After the news cameras leave and the world moves on, we are all we have.”
The recovery process for coffee businesses also entails helping coffee workers affected by the fires to move forward. Barry Allison owns Kihei Caffe, which has three locations on Maui. Its Lahaina location remains closed after the fire—the café does not yet have clean water—and the business is helping its displaced workers. “I have 12 employees who lost everything,” Barry says. “Some of them lost everything everything—like no ID, no nothing—just the shoes and shirt on their back. So as a community we pull these people in, care for them, and then try to find them long-term housing.”
Outreach to the Larger Community
Elsewhere on Maui, coffee businesses have been involved in efforts to provide support to displaced people throughout the island. Laura Night, owner of the coffee shop Vida in Makawao, located in the Upcountry area in East Maui, spent the days after the fires supporting volunteers and those affected, including bringing cold brew to the War Memorial Complex they were working from.
“Coffee and service is quite literally our love language, so every day we brought 10 gallons of cold brew and walked the stadium area getting cold brew out to the volunteers,” Laura says. “It felt very small at the time … but the connections made that day and the love birthed in the community, with everyone doing everything they possibly could, really was incredible. It wasn’t about the coffee … but the care, and really that’s what we were all trying to do.”
Surveying how the Maui coffee community has responded to the fires, there is no shortage of examples of action. The Coffee Store in Napili has a Community Donation Fund section on its website, which is going toward gift cards at their store to pay for coffee and food for those in need. Paia Bay Coffee Bar is planning a Music for Maui Fire Relief event this fall to replace instruments lost in the fire. Akamai Coffee, which has three locations on Maui—including one in Kihei—has been launching pop-up cafés at area donation hubs. Those are just a few examples; the fundraising efforts are quite extensive, and spread across many businesses.
At Crema Maui in Makawao, co-owner Andrea Riggins has taken part in several initiatives following the fires, including organizing a sponsorship program to support local businesses; taking part in an upcoming event gathering clothing for displaced families; and hosting a current Matcha for Maui fundraiser at their café, in partnership with Rishi Tea. “We are grateful to be in a position to offer our help and have the privilege to serve our craft to our Maui community in any and every which way we are able,” says Andrea. “If there is one thing I can say about this island community, it’s that we rise to the occasion. Not a moment lapsed before Maui residents sprung into action to support the families in affected areas, as well as the island’s local small businesses.”
While the devastating effects of the fires will be felt in Maui for the weeks, months, and years ahead, its residents who work in the coffee sector are taking clear steps forward—by rallying around their community. “Everyone is just wanting to give and help each other as much as they can,” says Emily of Drift Coffee. “And we all have an understanding: if you need to just take a day for yourself, then take a day for yourself. So we’re working with each other, but also giving each other space.”
If you want to be involved in the recovery efforts, this article has the details of institutions you can donate to—including Maui Nui Strong, Maui Rapid Response, Hawai’i Alliance for Progressive Actions, and the official website of Maui County.