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Lahaina-made chocolate may be the antidote to these anxious times

                                Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate Factory has temporarily closed due to the coronavirus crisis, but it’s giving away chocolates manufactured at its Lahaina Business Park site.


    Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate Factory has temporarily closed due to the coronavirus crisis, but it’s giving away chocolates manufactured at its Lahaina Business Park site.

So close and yet so far: Maui’s highly anticipated and only farm-to-bar chocolate retail store and factory opened to the public March 15 — and, sadly, it’s already temporarily closed due to the coronavirus crisis.

Yet there’s still a chance to enjoy a little sweetness in your life during these bitter times. While Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate Factory in Lahaina is not open for public tours or tastings at this time, it has been producing fine chocolates behind the scenes ever since the state Health Department gave it the go-ahead Oct. 18, and the confections can be ordered online or received as a complimentary gift in takeout orders at select partner restaurants.

You heard it right: complimentary chocolate — just what anxiety-ridden Maui and the rest of the world needs right now. Free 5-gram, foil-and-paper-wrapped pieces of chocolate have been distributed to restaurants, from Merriman’s Kapalua to Honu Seafood & Pizza in Lahaina to Sea House in Napili to include in takeout order bags.

“We will continue to provide our corporate partners with free chocolate for as long as we can make chocolate and they are allowed to stay open,” said Dr. Gunars Valkirs, CEO, the only one now making the goods on-site. “We can’t do this forever, but if it reinforces what we mean by ‘partner’ and helps bring a smile or enjoyment to people in the community, it’s worth doing.”

Many other Ku‘ia partners have closed temporarily, including Mama’s Fish House, Andaz Maui at Wailea, Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Star Noodle and Old Lahaina Lu‘au.

To spread more comfort during this difficult time, Valkirs curated “Shelter in Place” gift collections of his dark and dark milk chocolates ($50 value) that he offered for free on the Ku‘ia website with $10 shipping, while supplies lasted — and they didn’t. If you didn’t snag one, it’s too late.

Valkirs, a philanthropist who runs a foundation to benefit Maui charities with his wife, JoRene Valkirs, said once the pandemic has passed, the public will be welcomed into the factory, complete with viewing windows into the production plant, a tasting bar with custom-made chocolate drinks and grab-and-go desserts, and a scenic dining pavilion atop the building.

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Two world-famous musicians and part-time Maui residents have joined countless performers who are delivering songs on the internet from their homes for all us sheltered-in-place people to enjoy.

Willie Nelson got us pondering the fate of travel with his signature “On the Road Again,” streaming live from the living room of his digs in Austin, Texas, with sons Lukas and Micah Nelson on either side. Paul Simon jumped in from his Maui residence toward the end of the five-hour “Til Further Notice” production, singing the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream” with wife Edie Brickell and actor/musician Woody Harrelson, who has a home in East Maui. Willie, Woody and Paul appeared onstage together when Bill Maher did his New Year’s comedy show at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

The Maui Coffee Attic in Wailuku has found an innovative way to support Maui musicians by allowing them to perform in-house with no audience via Facebook Live streaming from 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. You stay at home and listen and can donate to the artists via internet link.


Several Maui companies committed to creating top-quality spirits are re-deploying their resources to turn out a different kind of alcohol product that has been in short supply during the coronavirus pandemic. Hawaii Sea Spirits, Maui Brewing Co., Pau Maui Vodka and Maui Gold Pineapple are making hand sanitizer for distribution to the island’s first responders and other essential workers. In some cases the Maui-made sanitizer will be available to the public.

Maui Brewing Co.’s Kihei and Kahana restaurants are offering a free 16-ounce hand sanitizer created by its Kupu Spirits brand to anyone who purchases to-go items including six-packs of beer, canned whiskey and gin cocktails, and large crowlers and growlers to keep you sipping at home awhile. Takeout food includes crisp calamari, local- catch fish tacos and family feasts for four, and grab-and-go Pau Hana Pilsner and Bikini Blonde Lager.

“We’ve also been making (sanitizer) available in 1- and 5-gallon jugs for Maui police and firefighters and some kupuna and child care places with proof of 501(c) nonprofit designation,” said Marketing Manager Marsha Hansen.

Hawaii Sea Spirits is employing some of the same ingredients and equipment used to produce its Ocean Organic Vodka to manufacture sanitizer. “Our spirits blending and bottling equipment is set up nearly perfectly to make this sanitizer. Very little conversion needed to happen,” said Shay Smith, CEO. “When the need came up, we dropped what we were doing, acquired the correct materials and started doing this.”

Other local businesses enlisted in the effort, he said, with Mokulele Airlines offering air cargo for hard-to-get ingredients from another island, Maui Babe tanning lotion providing bottles, Printers Inc. in Kahului handling the labels and the Maui Food Bank helping to figure out distribution.

“This really has been an awesome community effort,” Smith said.

Pau Maui Vodka produced its first run of hand sanitizer last week, to be sold at cost to front-line agencies most at risk for exposure to COVID-19.

“Selling this at cost keeps our doors open and our employees working in order to be able to provide for their families,” said master distiller Cory Nigbur. “The Hawaiian Islands have always been strong at showing their resilience by utilizing local resources, agriculture and means of production in new and innovative ways, and now is no different. It is inspiring to see individuals and companies doing their part to help where they can.”

A note of caution: Despite their origins and alcohol content, do not try to drink the Maui-distilled sanitizers. They are not fit for human consumption and are flammable.

Veteran journalist Carla Tracy pops the cork on Maui’s dining and entertainment scene in her weekly column. Email her at

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

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