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Koloa Rum eyes move

Increased demand prompts plans for new company hub

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Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

Sugar cane frames the Koloa Rum Co. building at the Kilohana Estates.

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LIHUE — Koloa Rum Company is in need of a new home.

Increased product demand, officials say, have prompted them to reassess their retail operations in Lihue and production facilities in Kalaheo, where the company’s popular spirits are distilled and Kukui Brand jams are manufactured. 

“Fortunately, over time, the demand for our products have increased and we can easily see that we’re fast approaching capacity in terms of operating out of this facility in Kalaheo,” Koloa Rum Company President and CEO Bob Gunter said. 

It only seems apropos, Gunter said, for them to consider a site in the company’s namesake town on Kauai’s South Shore — a place where sugar cane cultivation once flourished during the island’s plantation days.  

“We’ve always thought that, when the time came for us to expand and perhaps relocate, we’d want to do that in the Koloa area,” Gunter said. “For us to be located there, really ties into the historical aspect of the Koloa name and sugar production on Kauai.” 

But before company officials can proceed with more concrete plans to construct a new facility across the street from Anne Knudsen Park, they must receive approval from the county’s Planning Commission during a hearing scheduled today. 

Plans for the company’s new hub include the construction of a 45,000-square-foot production facility; a 3,000-square-foot administrative office building; 4,500-square-foot tasting room; 30,000-square-foot interactive garden, 1,000-square-foot plantation house; 1,500-square-foot farm dwelling; and a 4,500-square-foot cafe on about 16.7 acres of privately held land.

If approved, about half of the land, according to county planning documents, would be used to cultivate sugar cane “and other crops necessary to produce the food products, including guava, pineapple, oranges, passion fruit, bread fruit, mango, ti and coffee.” 

The Koloa Rum Company produces a variety of rum, including white, gold, dark, spice and coconut, and ready-to-drink selections, including Mai Tai and Rum Punch. The company’s Kukui Brand, meanwhile, manufactures a small range of jellies and fruit preserves made from guava, passion fruit, pineapple and strawberry guava. 

“It is truly a consolidation project and would bring all of our operations into one defined footprint,” Gunter said. “That would make for more efficiencies, and again, it’s important for us to be physically located in or near Koloa. The very beginning of the Hawaii sugar industry started in Koloa town with the Old Koloa Mill. The property that we are proposing our project for is literally a stone’s throw from the site of the original Koloa Mill.”

If approved, Gunter said Kauai Rum Company officials would enter into a long-term lease agreement with the owner of the land, who was not disclosed in county planning documents. Gunter also declined to name the landowner. He also declined to reveal any sales figures for Koloa rum products.

The property is undeveloped and no building or structures are located on the site. Past agricultural activities on the land include a macadamia nut tree farm, a banana farm, an ornamental plant nursery, and sugarcane cultivation.

Gunter said company officials “have no plans regarding closing or maintaining operations” at either the company’s tasting room and company store at Kilohana Plantation in Lihue or distilling and manufacturing facility in Kalaheo. 

Tentative construction costs, he added, have not been drawn up yet. 

“We haven’t gotten that far along in the process because we first need to make sure that we will indeed be able to proceed with the project,” Gunter said. “Once we have those assurances, then we can set out to define the cost and developing final plans.” 

About 100 jobs are expected to be created during the construction phase of the project alone. 

After the project is complete, Koloa Rum Company officials estimate that 22 employees will relocate to the company’s proposed facilities in Koloa and another 25 to 30 employees will need to be hired. Of these workers, 32 to 37 will be full time, while the remaining 15 to 20 will be part-time employees.

Attempts to contact the Koloa Neighborhood Association were unsuccessful Monday.

A Planning Commission new agency hearing for Koloa Rum Company’s proposal is scheduled at 9 a.m. today in the Moikeha Building, Meeting Room 2A/2B. 

4 images

Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

Sugar cane frames the Koloa Rum Co. building at the Kilohana Estates.

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