Creativity is Their Business

Four people tell how they turned creative passions into full-time businesses.

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Photo: David Croxford

Kawehi Haug, Cupcake Queen

When Haug and I were both working in the Island Life section of The Honolulu Advertiser, she often brought incredible baked goods to the newsroom. I particularly recall her amazing butter-cream frosting. She said she made it her mission to create the ultimate frosting.

After the Advertiser closed down in 2010, most of its journalists had to reinvent themselves, as Honolulu does not have an abundance of journalism jobs. I was not surprised when, in 2011, Haug opened a cupcake shop, Let Them Eat Cupcakes, at 35 S. Beretania St. in Chinatown.

Haug’s passion for cupcakes began when she was growing up in Germany. Every Christmas, her mother made cupcakes and, for 10 years, she worked at perfecting the frosting. While still writing for a living, she began making wedding cakes for friends. This segued into cupcake towers, because, “Wedding cakes are not as practical as cupcakes in Hawaii’s climate,” she explains.

“In the back of my head, I always told myself, at some point, if I’m forced to give up journalism, I might be brave enough to try baking for a living,” Haug says. Having a partner from the beginning, “Helped a lot so I didn’t have to jump alone. But it’s still scary. You don’t know if it’s going to work. My business plan was little overhead and low risk.”

Her business philosophy: “To do one thing and do it really well and to not water down your product.” So she decided to concentrate entirely on cupcakes. Although some customers asked her to start making coffee, she stuck strictly to cupcakes.

Having passed the three-year mark with her business, Haug recently opened a loose-leaf tea bar. The shop now offers nine varieties of loose-leaf organic tea made fresh with French presses.

Haug recently introduced Georgie Pie, named after her mother. It’s a pop-up concept, with pies offered the third Thursday and Friday of the month, from 11 a.m. until they sell out, which they always do. She also makes pies any time by special order.

Haug is happy with her location. “The food community (in Chinatown) is a supportive community. There is some small competition but mostly it’s, ‘You do what you do and I do what I do.’ ”

If Georgie Pie takes off, another shop may be in her future. She is also thinking about a custom-picnic-basket business. “My philosophy is to fill a niche that’s not being filled,” Haug says.

Let Them Eat Cupcakes supplies the Moana Surfrider Resort & Spa with 200 cupcakes a day for its afternoon tea, which has segued into providing all its specialty baking needs. It has been a lucrative contract for the little shop.

Let Them Eat Cupcakes has been a success from the get-go. It sells out every day by around 1 or 2 p.m. During the first year, it sold $20,000 per month on average and, by the end of the second year, it had increased 30 percent. May 2 marked its third anniversary.




Ira Ono, Artist

Photo: Courtesy Ira Ono

Ono is from New York, but he knew Hawaii was home the first time he set foot in Hana, Maui.  He has lived on Maui and the Big Island for more than 30 years.

For Ono, who just turned 70 and lives in Volcano, an artist’s life has been the only option. Though there have been lean times and the whole “starving artist” syndrome is not new to him, he has always managed to make a living through art.

He majored in painting and ceramics at Temple University and in graduate school at the Brooklyn Museum School. He was on a sabbatical when he visited Hana and decided to stay. “I consider Hana my spiritual home,” he says.

Hana School had a kiln, so he taught ceramics to enable him to stay in Hana. After two years he moved to Makawao. He discovered Hui Noeau, a Maui nonprofit arts organization, had an old kiln. Ono restored the kiln, got a grant from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and began teaching ceramics. He helped pay the rent with craft shows, mainly on Oahu, through the Pacific Handcrafters Guild.

In addition, Ono opened Touchstone Gallery in Paia, which he later sold to the Maui Crafts Guild. While he loved Maui, “I knew I could not afford to live on Maui and would never be able to afford land there,” he said. “I heard Volcano Village had a lovely arts community. I came over for a weekend and discovered even a starving artist could afford to buy land, so I moved here in 1980. I lived in a tent for over a year until I built my little cabin and I’ve been here ever since.”

About 12 years ago, Ono bought the Hopper Estate in Volcano, built in 1908, and he has been restoring and growing the property ever since. He has renovated it into the Volcano Garden Arts Gallery, Café Ono, a vegetarian restaurant, and the Volcano Artists Cottage. The gallery features the work of more than 100 artists, including Ono’s own.

“It’s not easy, because I’m not doing commercial work. I was doing ceramic masks for many years. I never really did functional art, although I did some toothbrush holders,” he explains.

As a fine artist, Ono is constantly evolving innovative means of making a living. In addition to his ceramics, he created a line of wearable art called Ono Ribbon Scarves. They are sold at several locations on Oahu, including Riches Kahala, Silver Moon Emporium and Queen Emma Summer Palace.

There have been some rough times for Ono. “In 2009, the --- hit the fan and it was a dangerous time to have a fine-art gallery that wasn’t commercial, but I was able to buy good art from good artists and somehow survived,” Ono says. Now he is thriving. Last year, he grossed $450,000 and currently employs six people.

It’s not surprising that Ono has taught a class called, “The Business of Art,” at Maui Community College for 18 years.

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