Hiking Hawaii Cafe: Innovative Social Entrepreneurship Marketing Model (Interview)

Screen-shot-2013-09-24-at-3.57.12-PMI’ve always been impressed by companies that are really innovative and creative with their green marketing. Hiking Hawaii Cafe is a great example. The cafe serves a lot of healthy, vegetarian, and local options, organic coffee, and fruit smoothies and juices. In that way, it’s a lot like many other little green cafes–the type of place we love to hang out, work, eat, relax, and meet up with friends. But as you might have guessed from the name, Hiking Hawaii Cafe is a business that’s only partially a cafe. Patrons are given a menu of local guided hikes and other outdoor adventures, and catered to by a staff that is part friendly barista, and part expert outdoorsmen and women. This hybrid model is something I imagine we’ll see more and more of as the economy continues its inevitable shift toward sustainability, and local green companies look for ways to compete in an increasingly challenging marketplace with innovative green marketing campaigns.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Cafe’s owner, Crystal Evans, to discuss how she uses a green cafe to help get people into ecotourism.

SC: your business model is really innovative. What inspired the lightbulb moment where you realized that opening a cafe would be a great marketing tool for the hiking tours?

CE: I pictured a cool hangout place with healthy food.  A place where people could share or grab hiking information.  A place where you instantly felt warm and at home.

I had the idea but I also knew no one was doing it.  No one had a hiking cafe or a tour company with a cafe.  It was going to be a new challenge which is what seemed intriguing.

But to me…..Hiking and healthy food just seemed to be a great partnership!


SC: Do you find that many people come to find you because they’re looking for a place to have breakfast or get coffee and then end up going for a hike?

CE: Yes, A lot of people either just stumble across us or YELP a place to eat and end up finding us.

Once they are in here they realize we also set up Hiking Tours so will take a tour with us.


SC: Many eco-tour operators don’t have a physical location, and many would say that’s an advantage to keeping overhead low. How important was it for you to have a storefront, at all, in order to reach tourists who wanted to go hiking?

CE: I actually started the business in 2010.  The Cafe came in 2012.

No one would give me the time of day (Hotels, concierge) etc. Once I had the cafe, it opened the door.  That’s when all of a sudden I seemed legit to the hotels. That’s when they started sending us business and when contracts were made.

It also put my foot in the door in a non-aggressive way. I then could go to the concierge and tell them about our cafe (which happened to do hiking tours) instead of trying to just get them to sell our Hiking Tours.


SC: You’ve also got a great menu with lots of local and vegetarian options, and have nothing but compostable take-out materials. Why do you feel it’s important to have a more sustainable cafe? Is it because you think customers who want to go hiking will feel more inclined to trust an eco-tour company that has a greener menu, or is it a personal passion of yours to have healthier and more sustainable food?

CE: Hiking and Healthy and Sustainable go hand in hand. Hikers are people who enjoy nature, enjoy healthy food, and want to make the earth a better place. Being a Hiking Company there was no other option then to use Eco-friendly everything.

It hurt because its so much more expensive but I knew if I just started with it, I wouldn’t know any different! From the beginning we started growing our own basil, parsley, peppers, tomatoes. I have an acre of land and also grow basil, tomatoes, arugula, Limes, lemons, avocado, papaya, bananas, coconut, star fruit, mango, and more…..

The vegetarian options were made in the beginning but kept on expanding to vegan, gluten-free, as I realized a real need for healthy food in Waikiki.  People on vacation were struggling to find a healthy meal on vacation. We get people who will eat with us everyday on vacation.  They love the fact we have healthy choices.


SC: What have you found to be the most pleasant and unexpected surprise of running such an innovative business?

CE: Meeting all the wonderful people we meet. Great local people and tourists. We all share a love for outdoors, hiking, and being healthy. Those kind of people are wonderful, healthy, kind people to be around!


SC: Future plans?

CE: Hiking Tours around the World. Hike and Wine Tour in Thailand. Hike and Beer Tour in Germany. Hike & Gamble Tour in Utah/Vegas. Also would love to open a second location in Hawaii Kai that’s more accessible to locals.

Find out more at HikingHawaii808.com

About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on