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This Workstay Story was written by Collin Francois, if you’d like to learn more about the Heavenly Hawaiian Workstay Program, click here!
“The concept was simple but incredible; give people the opportunity to roast their own coffee- cowboy style and teach them about the Paniolo, the Hawaiian cowboy. I was more than happy to help out but there was just one problem- I knew nothing about the history of the Paniolo. I knew I had to dig deep into the history and do my research on Hawaiian Paniolo to help create this important tour” – Collin Francois, Heavenly Hawaiian Workstay Alumni
The best things in life are unplanned for. There is no better example of this mantra than my experience in the Heavenly Hawaiian Workstay program. If you would have told me three years ago that in the span of 6 months I would become a tour guide, live on a coffee farm, and create my own brand of honey, I would have said that you were crazy. However, unexpectedly, all of that and more happened. Three years ago I was a graduate of Oklahoma State University, preparing to go to graduate school, and looking for something to fill the time in between. I was on vacation with my family on the Big Island and I was wanting to learn about Kona Coffee. By complete chance, I found Heavenly Hawaiian and decided to go on a tour. I was immediately blown away by the beautiful view and delicious coffee (the cats were a bonus too)! During my stay I learned about the Workstay program, and at that point I knew what I wanted to do: go out and experience Hawaii through this wonderful farm. I applied that night, got accepted, and within one month of going back to the mainland I was already on a flight back to Hawaii.
From the moment I walked through the door at base camp I was greeted with smiles and kindness from the other work stay members and felt like I found my second home. I learned a lot about a variety of coffee related subjects. Subjects such as how to make the perfect cup of coffee, coffee processing, coffee growing, and coffee tasting. I started to give tours to share my knowledge to newcomers, and it was a way to cement my understanding of my favorite caffeinated drink.
As I was hitting my stride with the Workstay program another unexpected thing happened. One day I was called into the office while working to talk with Bill, our general manager and CEO of the farm. He talked about wanting to add a new product to the gift shop, and he wanted my help to design, make, and sell it. The original idea was our own version of Hot Honey with Hawaiian chili peppers, the latest viral trend on the internet. However, our Hawaiian chili pepper bushes had only produced a handful of peppers, so scaling up would be challenging. I thought to experiment with different flavors, starting with citrus and coffee. The citrus honey was nice, however the coffee honey was something unique that I had never tasted before. This was the beginning of Sweet C’s coffee honey.
The following weeks were spent with me experimenting with different recipes, ingredient ratios, and coffees to get the perfect recipe. I brought my samples to the staff and they were extremely encouraging of my progress. The farm helped me find jars to put the honey into, invested in buying ingredients and supplies to help me make the honey. They even helped me design labels and stickers to put on the bottle, letting our graphic artist work with me to help bring the design to life. I was able to see a new product grow and develop in front of my eyes, and I didn’t expect it at all.
If my time at Heavenly Hawaiian ended with just the coffee honey I would have considered my time well spent. But it didn’t end there. A month later, Bill called me into his office with another task: help develop a new tour for the farm. A previous Workstay had come up with the idea to do a Paniolo tour. The concept was simple but incredible; give people the opportunity to roast their own coffee- cowboy style and teach them about the Paniolo, the Hawaiian cowboy. I was more than happy to help out but there was just one problem- I knew nothing about the history of the Paniolo.
I started to search through websites, trying to get a grasp on the Paniolo story, but it felt like something was missing. I needed to see and get the information straight from the source. Luckily, the parker ranch in Waimea was the perfect place to do that. I got to take notes and look at primary sources of Paniolo history, which I brought back and turned into the Paniolo tour. Unfortunately, my time at heavenly neared its end as I had to go back to graduate school. However, the experiences I had there changed the trajectory of my life. I decided to pursue more business oriented classes, as well as studying copyright and trademarks. This was a direct effect of my experience with creating the coffee honey, as well as working at the farm. I was able to apply real life experiences to my classes and I was all the better for it.
Luckily, earlier this year I had an opportunity to visit the island and farm again. It was amazing to see how in two years the farm grew and changed so much. However, the soul of the farm was the same. Amazing, passionate people who help people achieve their highest dreams. I don’t know how long I will stay out on the island, but I cant wait to see what unexpected thing comes next.