Sip Me is one of Makawao’s destination cafes. In the morning you’ll find Upcountry hipsters, folks on their way to work, wifi users and visitors all lined up to taste organic food and beverages. They opened on June 29, 2015, in the old Kitada’s location and have been gaining a following ever since. The cafe is bright, contemporary and cozy. In the last two years, owner Laura Wentworth has fine-tuned the menu, and has plans to open her cafes all over Maui.
“Our name, ‘Sip Me,’ was all about what you could sip,” says Wentworth. “Coffee, tea, juice, smoothies, with pastries on the side. So our brand is changing a little bit, but our name is not. It will be interesting to see how this is received. I don’t think anyone will complain.”
Her Kahului location will open soon, and that will add a lot of square feet to her operation.
“Kahului is 3,000 square feet, and the Makawao location is 700 square feet, but we will not have a kitchen in that location, either,” says Wentworth. “We won’t have a commercial kitchen but we will have a large back of the house to store our foodstuffs. Kahului will also have a drive-thru, which will be a game-changer for us.”
Since her neighbor Market Fresh closed, Wentworth is taking on more menu items.
“When I opened, Market Fresh was across the street,” says Wentworth. “Chef Justin Pardo is a really good friend of mine. I didn’t want to do anything that went directly against his menu. I mean, let’s face it: I’m not going to make a sandwich better than Justin. Now that Market Fresh has closed, I’m actually working with a chef to make some lunch items. We’re really excited about this. We’ve tailored a farm-to-table menu that he will be launching for us. It will be launched out of the Kahului location, but certain aspects will be integrated at the Makawao location.”
The items will be grab-and-go and ready-made, but her plan is to elevate the process.
“We will have pohole fern salads, paninis, watermelon sage salads and a Sip-Me full nutrition salad that has everything you could possibly need in one salad,” says Wentworth. “He’s going to go into a commercial kitchen, make it all, and then go into our location and set everything up. So it’s pre-made but at a whole new level.”
Sip Me’s current menu includes breakfast fare like coffee cakes, yogurt, bagels, scones and danishes that run you from $3 to $9.50. There’s also a whole gluten-free section with muffins, scones, waffles, Brazilian cheese bread and coffee cakes.
“I don’t bake anything,” says Wentworth. “I’m a horrible baker. You never want to eat anything that I bake. The gluten-free quiche is from Sugar Shop in Lahaina. They bake everything fresh daily for us. They do all of our gluten-free.”
Having a coffee shop with no kitchen was a problem at first, but Wentworth learned it meant fewer permits overall.
“One of the biggest challenges with getting this space open was trying to figure out how to do it without having to have a commercial kitchen,” says Wentworth. “You get hit with a lot of other permits when you have a commercial kitchen. There are already enough permits for just a coffee shop. We found four great chefs that we started with, they all specialize in something different and they rotate through the week, all week long seven days a week. One is great at coffee cakes the other is really good at cookies and Rice Crispy treats. We pick up fresh from them at 6am and bring it to the shop. The earlier you come in, you can get it hot from the oven. When the coffee cakes are all warm and moist, it’s so awesome. That’s my favorite and it’s our best seller.”
But what people really want are the drinks, and that starts with coffee.
“I had heard about this guy, David Gridley, who used to own a coffee shop in Kahului, who now roasts beans as Maui Oma,” says Wentworth. “He’s amazing. He’s so passionate about what he does. He comes in and trains you and makes you learn how to pull perfect shot after perfect shot after perfect shot. He will not agree to let you carry his beans until he feels that you a) know what the difference is, b) know how to pull a perfect shot every single time under pressure and c) can follow these strict guidelines and give them over to your staff. It took about three months for us to convince him, but we did, and he did a full training with the staff. Now he’s family.”
At Sip Me, the hot coffee will be a different bean from the iced coffee.
“Our Sip Me house blend is a full roast Nicaraguan, Costa Rican and 10 percent Maui,” says Wentworth. “It’s really smooth and the caffeine content is a little higher. It’s a mixture of light and dark. You get the richness of the dark and the caffeine of the light.”
Then there’s the espresso.
“Our espresso is a full French blend,” she says. “It has four different kinds of French beans in it. Our iced coffee is a whole other blend. It’s all Italian. Italians make a really bold rich strong tasting coffee. It makes for really good toddies and iced coffees. Every different kind of coffee has its own different kind of blend.”
The smoothies have recently been redeveloped to low-calorie recipes.
“The smoothies are also formulated by chefs from Culinary Hill,” says Wentworth. “That’s an online chefs community. We had a chef out of New York create them. There is Glow, Glam and Green. Glow has mango and carrot. We try to do one vegetable and one fruit and then something that adds to it, like collagen, protein, or hemp seed. Those are all made to order with organic ingredients. Green is avocado, spinach, flax seed and pineapple and lemon. We do a water base with all of the smoothies to keep the calorie content down. Smoothies can get crazy in calorie count really fast. Glam is strawberries, collagen, orange and carrot. Our smoothies come in around 200 calories.”
Their juices also have a following. They keep three kinds minimum in the grab and go container.
“We have the Purify Me that was the first juice we had formulated for our menu, and it might be the best selling item, period,” says Wentworth. “It has beets, turmeric, ginger, orange, carrot and lemon. It’s cleansing, and keeps your metabolism high. Beets are so good for the circulatory system. The Purify Me started it all with the juices. We used to make the juices in house, but then our juicer broke. It was the best thing that ever happened. For years I’ve been thinking I had to do cold press juice. When it broke I had about four hours to find juice for the next day. Luckily, R.I.P.E. juice stepped up, and they were looking for wholesale accounts. It was important to me that I keep the juices affordable, and I offer them at $9.50 for 16 ounces of juice.”
Wentworth says there’s one thing that every Sip Me Cafe will have, and that’s friendly customer service.
“I had no idea how hard service was until I worked in here,” says Wentworth. “We really try to stick to our standards. In doing that we have kept our coffee to a level, and Gridley has helped us keep to this level that you might not find in other coffee shops. We really try to excel at everything we do. Since we outsource our teas, our juices, our baked goods, it really allows us to do what we are good at. I’m not going to the staff and asking them to do all of the menu exceptionally. Instead, they can just focus on customer service, espresso and coffee. And my staff is not run down.”
Organic Coffee, Tea & Treats
3617 Baldwin Ave., Makawao
All Images by the incredibly talented Sean M. Hower