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Cider, beer for the community

Big Island-based Ola Brew Co.’s business model would not be feasible without the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, or JOBS Act, which allows for equity crowdfunding.

“The act allows for unaccredited investors to invest in private companies, which has been instrumental in our growth,” co-founder Naehalani Breeland said. The cider and beer company, which launched a year ago, is owned by Breeland, co-founder Brett Jacobson, and more than 600 other small investors, most of whom are from online crowdsourcing platform Wefunder. More than 90 percent of these investors are Hawaii residents.

Breeland and Jacobson are also the owners of Hawaiian Ola, a non-alcoholic beverage company they launched about eight years ago. While the pair still operate the business, which specializes in energy shots, sparkling juices and Kona coffee leaf teas, the duo are focusing on the growth of Ola Brew Co. In addition to getting more of the canned beer and cider in stores statewide, Breeland and Jacobson are launching a third investment round to help fund a new 1,000-square-foot taproom in Honolulu. They already have a place in mind, but declined to share specifics. “We plan on opening it next fall in an undisclosed location,” Jacobson said, adding that the location is a notable spot that many are aware of.

The company is based out of its Kailua-Kona taproom, which is frequented by a customer base comprised of 70 percent local residents and 30 percent tourists. As a result of strong consumer demand, the business has tripled production since it launched in December 2017 to about 500 barrels per month. It has annual revenues of about $2.2 million.

Why did you start the company?

NB: We started Hawaiian Ola really to give back to the community, and support sustainable agriculture in the Islands. We already had a really good network of farmers from that company, and we wanted to open a business that belonged to the community. Probably 30 percent of our investors come into our taproom in Kailua-Kona once a week, which is really cool for us. The best part is we are truly impacting our local community; this year alone we purchased almost $100,000 worth of fruit from local farmers, which makes a huge impact on their bottom line.

What are you working on now?

BJ: Our taproom right now has 60 seats, and we are expanding it to add 25 seats and more square footage for a lounge and game room. We are also working on adding a food menu, as right now we have food trucks that park in front of the taproom every night. We recently launched our IPA cans, and just last week we launched our canned Kona Gold Pineapple Cider, which is the state’s first packaged cider. Through a partnership with Paradise Beverages, the state’s largest beverage distributor, we are in 250 stores. We are also launching our canned lager in mid-December or by January 1. What is your best-seller?

BJ: Our best-selling beer is our IPA and our Ma‘a Lager. For cider, it would be our Kona Gold Cider and our White Pineapple Cider.

How many employees do you have?

NB: We have 20 full-time and two part-time employees.

What is your biggest expense?

NB: Utilities are crazy expensive, not just power but the purchase of CO2. To minimize that we have purchased and installed a CO2 recovery system and a nitrogen generator. Shipping is also a big expense.

How do you find farmers to work with?

NB: When we first got started we put an ad on the radio saying we are looking for local fruit, and we will buy whatever you grow. That helped us develop those relationships.

BJ: We also have a full-time employee who is a food forager. Her name is Dorothea Headly, and she used to work as a produce specialist at Island Naturals Market & Deli in Kailua-Kona. She started working with us about six months ago, and she spends all of her time going out and foraging food from farmers.

Were you affected by the volcano?

NB: We use vanilla in our beer, and a lot of the vanilla is grown around Hilo and Puna. While the farms weren’t directly affected by the lava, the air quality affected the vanilla because it is a very sensitive plant. For our business, we just roll with the punches and we purchase anything that is in season. We aren’t afraid to get creative. Read the original article here About Ola Brew

Ola Brew is an employee and community owned brewery whose mission is to increase the local agricultural economy through sourcing Hawai'i-grown ingredients and incorporating them into their beverages. The brewery has organically driven the beyond beer space in Hawai'i as the first locally produced hard seltzer and hard teas while also brewing up delicious beers and hard ciders. True to their mission, Ola Brew has sourced and purchased over $1.2M in local agriculture since their inception in December 2017.

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