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The Conversation

Food Co-op Kokua Market Survives to 50, But Not Without Rough Patches

Kokua Market Manoa Produce
Noe Tanigawa
/
HPR

What is it like for a business to be employee-owned? Does a cooperative really work? Kokua Market, once known as Kokua Country Foods, is a food cooperative that has lived in Honolulu's university area since 1971 — it's 50 years old this year. Barely. The market managed to survive years of construction for the University of Hawaiʻi dorm next door, then COVID-19, and most recently, the first round in a bruising battle to find a new general manager.

HPR's Noe Tanigawa visited the store on King Street just Diamond Head of University Avenue to speak with interim General Manager Margaret Croxford, and Assistant Manager Kayla Rosenfeld. You may remember Kayla Rosenfeld from her term as News Director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Croxford has been bookkeeper at Kokua for four years and says the store was doing well until about five years ago.

IMG_8062.jpg
Noe Tanigawa
/
HPR
Kayla Rosenfeld, Kokua Market's assistant manager on left

"We had a general manager that came from the mainland, he didn't have contacts with our local farmers, our local businesses. And so primarily brought in everything from the mainland that could have been purchased at Safeway or anywhere else," Croxford said. "So it was kind of a tough time because people stopped coming, they couldn't come and get the items that they looked forward to."

Kokua Market offers things you may not find elsewhere — brownies made with Waiʻanae Gold Kiawe flour, highly nutritious, and locally brewed beverages of course, including mead from Manoa Meadery. They have sausages and prime cuts from Makana Meats — they even have local venison shumai.

There’s also local produce, papayas, bananas, lychee, and they carry raw local pet food. They are one of two Bitcoin locations on Oʻahu. Also, they’ve got local kombucha and nitro coffee on tap. And the New York Times on Sundays.

Click the "Listen" button to hear the interview with Margaret Croxford and Kayla Rosenfeld on The Aloha Friday Conversation on July 30, 2021.

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