Aunty Lilikoi’s Sweet Passion

Lori Cardenas with her Aunty Lilikoi products. Cocdo Zickos photos

Lori Cardenas
Owner, Aunty Lilikoi

Please tell us about your business.

I do manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing of a line of passion fruit products, including condiments, skin-care products and desserts. I’ve been in this location in Waimea for five years, and have been open for 10 years. The brand is actually 21 years old, but I bought the business 10 years ago when it was just five recipes and a trade name. I’ve got two employees, and my husband of 32 years, Tony, helps me out he’s the unpaid slave.

Where are you from and where did you graduate high school?

I’ve been on Kaua’i since I was 4 and I’m a 1977 Kaua’i High School graduate.

Why did you get started in this business?

I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I’ve been in management since I was 19. Prior to Aunty Lilikoi, I was the general manger at The Red Dirt Shirt Factory, Paradise Sportswear for five-and-ahalf years when it first started. Since Aunty Lilikoi was already an established business, it had a market, albeit a small one, so it was something that was already proven. I knew that once I learned how to make the products, I’d be able to market them properly.

Where do you make all your products?

In my kitchen here in Waimea. I was just getting ready to make a batch of lilikoi fudge.

Why did you choose Waimea as your location?

It’s really funny, because I’m a Kaua’i High School graduate and never spent much time in Waimea. The farthest west I’d stray would be Lawai, where we live. I always worked in Lihu’e, so I’d only go back and forth from there. But then I started working in Port Allen when I was with Paradise Sportswear, so I got a little farther west. And then when I left Paradise Sportswear, I started working here at Kikiaola Land Company just before I purchased Aunty Lilikoi. I got to the point where I really liked Waimea. I really like the people, there’s everything here that I need, and it’s very convenient. I’m right here in the heart of town and get a lot of walk-in traffic. It’s a great town.

Where besides Waimea can people purchase your products?

Both of the Foodlands, both of the Longs, the Kaua’i Coffee gift shop and we also participate in the major holiday craft fairs.

How many of your customers are visitors?

It’s about 70 percent visitors and 30 percent kamaaina.

What’s your best-selling product?

Our Passion Wasabi Mustard by a long shot, hands down. It’s really ono. That’s also the most ordered product on our website, and when people order it’s usually a case full at a time.

How do you come up with the recipes?

Most of the time I just listen to my customers. A good case in point is my Passion Fruit Habanero Jelly. I had never heard of a pepper jelly until my customers started asking for one. So I made one. We’ve been able to make quite a nice product line with just a few basic recipes.

What kind of desserts do you make?

I make Lilikoi chiffon pies, ice cream and sorbet.

What are your shipping

It’s a $15 flat-rate fee.

What do you find is the most rewarding aspect of your business?

When everybody tells me that they love the product and can’t live without it.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your business?

Paying the bills juggling cash flow and making sure I pay my vendors so that they’ll still sell me things.

How do you define success?

Liking what you do and not thinking of it as work.

Do you have a business philosophy or motto?

Just have fun doing what you’re doing and if you’re not having fun, get out.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m not quite ready to give up yet. I haven’t firmed up any plans yet, but I do have two grown children, Michael (31) and John (29), who will more than likely not take it over, so I will probably find someone else to do that at some point in time.

Aunty Lilikoi 9875 Waimea Road 338-1296 Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.