SmallBiz Editor's Choice Awards 2014
Each year, Hawaii Business honors outstanding small businesses in five categories. Here are 2014’s winners.
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Most Innovative Business
Founder: Tiffany Tanaka
Nominator: Jason Ubay, Hawaii Business
By Catherine E. Toth
The team behind the Fresh Cafe’s new downtown location on Bethel Street. Front row, left to right, event coordinator Nicki Araujo, partner Ryan Tanaka, owner Tiffany Tanaka, partner Gary Oda and bartender Nina Pullela.
Back row, left to right, expeditor Chris Kim, chef de cuisine Johnny Botelleo, bar manager Leland Asato, executive chef Topher Jacob, executive sous chef Edmond Kwok and bartender Hale Mawae.
Like many innovative businesses, Fresh Café was born out of a need – and that need was caffeine.
But when Tiffany Tanaka opened the coffee shop on Queen Street in Kakaako five years ago, serving her father’s brand of coffee – he owns Roots & Relics golf shop downtown – for $1.50 a cup and free WiFi, she didn’t realize it would become one of the hippest and most versatile gathering spaces in town.
The people behind the bar, left to right: bartenders Nina Pullella and Hale Mawae, and bar manager Leland Asato.
Photo: Odeelo Dayondon
Fresh Café has become a venue for slam poetry, art shows and live music. It hosts monthly events such as the Art + Flea marketplace, Barter Bar, Trivia Night and even nighttime yoga. Oh, and the café serves fresh sandwiches, homemade cookies and a killer ginger wasabi salad.
“Fresh Café is not only about serving fresh food and supporting local business,” says Tanaka, “but it’s about fresh ideas, innovative thoughts and trying to do what’s never been done.”
Tanaka is opening a second location this year in the space vacated by Indigo in Chinatown.
Partner Ryan Tanaka, Owner Tiffany Tanaka, Partner Gary Oda
Photo: Odeelo Dayondon
Christa Wittmier, senior marketing director of Young’s Market Co., met Tanaka in 2004, when the recent Punahou grad ran Queen’s Boutique before opening Fresh Café. Wittmier loved the edgy clothing boutique, outfitted with turntables and New York art magazines. They quickly became friends, then partnered on Pow! Wow! Hawaii in 2011, a progressive street art festival in Kakaako.
“Working with her on that event the past four years, she has always been the heart and soul of our group,” says Wittmier, who created and runs the festival’s music program with Tanaka. “She always has a positive attitude and works selflessly on making (the event) succeed. She is my rock.”
She’s not surprised Fresh Café earned the title of Most Innovative Business as Tanaka travels to other cities and countries to get her inspiration for her business.
“She has an amazing global network of influencers to tap into, and those people are impressed by what she’s doing,” she says. “She stays on top of trends and takes what works for Hawaii while always being conscious of supporting local. It’s amazing.”
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