Restaurants

Madre Chocolate, Uncle Clay
Image: MARTHA CHENG

Food for a Crowd(fund)

Crowdfunding food projects

Madre Chocolate, Uncle Clay / A recent glance at food projects on crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter yielded a slew of micro-breweries waiting to be funded from San Francisco to Louisville, Kentucky to Denton, Texas. Sites like these give entrepreneurs a medium through which to gather public support and funds for nearly anything imaginable.

Here in Honolulu, there are at least two food entrepreneurs that have turned to crowdfunding. One is Madre Chocolate, which currently seeks $15,000 to purchase cacao from an organic cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico. The other is Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (HOPA), which raised $54,000 to transform Doe Fang, a long-time crack seed and homemade icee store in ‘Aina Haina, into an all-natural shave ice shop that opened a few weeks ago.

The two businesses approach crowdfunding in different ways: For Madre Chocolate and other projects that use Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, contributions are donations and the whole process is public–anyone can contribute and anyone can post a project. HOPA started with a business plan on Profounder, a “community-sourcing” site on which the focus is private investments within communities. Investors had to be invited, and they are promised a return on their investment.

For both businesses, crowdfunding seemed a logical way to go–to rely on the community whom they hope to serve.

Kickstarting Cacao

Madre Chocolate’s community extends beyond Honolulu to the international chocolate community, from cacao farmer to chocolate processor. With this project, Nat Bletter and Dave Elliott hope to help the cacao-growing communities in Mexico by establishing a direct trade. “Crowdfunding is a natural way to extend what Madre Chocolate is doing with direct trade: Humanizing our chocolate,” Elliott says. “First and foremost we want our chocolate to delight the palate, but our higher goal is for it to weave a happy relationship between growers, chocolate-makers and consumers, something more profound and lasting than a mere financial transaction.”

Part of the money Madre Chocolate hopes to raise will be used to purchase and import the chocolate from Mexico. “We’ll be paying several times higher than the commodity rate to growers in order to obtain the highest quality ingredients and insure they’re getting a fair and just price,” Elliott says regarding a practice that runs against the status quo in an industry notorious for using child and slave labor.

Why focus on bringing cacao from Mexico? As the birthplace of cacao, “the cacao farmers there often have rare or heirloom varieties of cacao with unique taste characteristics and complex cultural practices surrounding their preparation of chocolate, with spices, flowers and herbs that are rarely heard of, let alone tasted,” Bletter says. In addition, currently, there isn’t a large enough cacao supply in Hawaii. Madre Chocolate hopes to use part of the Kickstarter money to buy cacao-processing equipment, so if, or when, the volume of Hawaii cacao grows, Madre Chocolate will be ready.

Madre Chocolate

[kickstarter.com]

[Madrechocolate.com]

[As of this writing, An Edible History of Chocolate, the Kickstarter project by Madre Chocolate, has raised $2,265 of $15,000.]

Buy It, They Will Come

When Clayton Chang (aka Uncle Clay) was a child, he would visit the Doe Fang crack seed store and say “I want to own this store some day!” In 1996, he took over the shop and became famous for his homemade icees, but the place struggled financially. Four years ago, his nephew, Bronson Chang, partnered with Uncle Clay because “I saw that like a lot of other mom-and-pops in Hawaii, Doe Fang was on its last leg, and changes needed to be made to ensure we could continue serving,” Bronson says.

Using the money they raised on ProFounder, they transformed Doe Fang into HOPA, with a fresh new space and a more health-conscious product (one of the housemade flavors is kale/spinach, a surprisingly tasty syrup sweetened with apple juice). What has not changed is “our foundation in pure aloha,” says Bronson. “Our vision is ‘our entire one world ‘ohana connected, heart-to-heart, through pure aloha.’ Our mission is to spread pure aloha one shave ice at a time.”

Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha Aina Haina Shopping Center

[houseofpurealoha.com]

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[At the moment, ProFounder has halted all fundraising via its site.]

Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha

You’re supposed to be ‘ohana when you come into HOPA, and I experience all the nuances of family dynamics when I come in: At times lovely, but also at times awkward. Everybody is introduced to everyone else–from the staff to each customer that walks in. Uncle Clay spoon-feeds me my first bites of my shave ice. He rings a little bell and an employee starts singing “Seasons of Love” from Rent. “You have such a special gift, you need to share it with our ‘ohana,” Uncle Clay says of Jojo. This definitely isn’t the assembly line shave ice experience a la Matsumoto’s or Waiola. Nor are the flavors, like the aforementioned kale/spinach syrup (sourced from Otsuji Farms) and a variety of other housemade shave ice flavors, from milk chocolate to strawberry. They also shape the ice differently, like a two-tiered wedding cake, of which the bottom layer is drenched in syrup before the top layer is stacked on top, and then doused.