When you buy your coffee at Kona Kai Coffee, you’re doing more than getting your caffeine fix for the day.
Kona Kai Coffee is a job training program that is also a nonprofit, according to its executive director, Mychal Boiser. The difference between this nonprofit and others though, is it’s not dependent on government funding or grants, it’s dependent on sales.
Boiser said that every sale that is made — coffee or food — one third of that revenue goes toward job training and helping those in need.
“I use coffee and food as tools to help men, women and youth who are facing various unemployment, in the hospitality and food service industry,” Boiser said.
He said the goal behind Kona Kai is to train teens, men, women and even seniors, about how to work in the coffee and food industry, that way they can get a job outside of Kona Kai Coffee.
“Most people that come in have no experience with coffee — they’re afraid. The espresso machine can be intimidating, very intimidating. Once you learn the foundation and the science behind coffee, it becomes really easy. Then you really understand how drinks are made,” Boiser said. “This is about opportunity. You can take it as far as you want. We have girls coming into our program entry level and now they’re working in other coffee cafes as managers. So that’s the success that I see.”
Boiser said he started envisioning an industry like Kona Kai about 20 years ago. He wanted to make a difference in people’s lives by creating jobs. Now, 11 years down the road, Boiser has developed two programs that help unemployed people become successful at a job and at life.
One of the programs that Boiser teaches is H.E.A.T. — Hospitality, Education and Training.
“It’s more the front end of the business. So, how do you interact with the customers? How do you handle disgruntled customers? How do you problem solve? Those are all things that you need to learn in life in general. If something goes wrong, how do you handle it? When you work in this industry, you want to give the best dining or coffee experience for your customers to come back,” he explained.
There is also a culinary program that Boiser said is for those who want to work in the kitchen and learn more about food and how to create it.
“So they learn their basic culinary skills. They also learn a lot of stuff that they never knew about because the youth of today, they really have no idea about how many different types of lettuce there are, how many different types of potatoes there are, how many types of tomatoes there are,” Boiser said.
One of Boiser’s many success stories comes from a young man who is autistic. Boiser said once he taught this young man to make banana bread, a simple recipe, he was on the road to success. The young man’s confidence shot through the roof and he now works at a different cafe and still makes that banana bread.
“Sometimes I think we underestimate these young men and women who have autism, who have a disability. Sometimes they are treated unfairly, but we’re here no matter who you are or what culture you’re from. Everybody deserves and opportunity to provide for their family,” Boiser said. “To put a roof over your head, to make sure your children don’t go hungry. This is why I got into this business. I just love seeing people being successful and the people that you meet is amazing.”
Boiser said he has also had a lot of success by just feeding his staff.
He explained that he has two students from Foster High School that work at Kona Kai, who would harass the baristas whenever they came in during the morning. Then once Boiser fed them, he said they were completely different.
“I knew that they were also hungry, so I fed them one day and since then, it’s changed their paradigm, their thinking. From being total jerks, to how well they care. So I think that’s what we want to let our community know, that we do care. We’re here to help you get an upper hand at life. We’re here to teach you financial management”
Another helpful aspect of working at Kona Kai is that Boiser said he works with his employees’ schedules to make sure they are able to come in and work effectively.
After opening in Tukwila not long ago, Boiser said the city has made him feel welcome and he hopes he can continue to grow with Tukwila.
“Tukwila has been such a tough neighborhood for so long, now it’s changing. You went from being (sad) and no hope, to a new revitalized neighborhood. They’re bringing in new people and new businesses to thrive, that’s what’s exciting,” he said. “The city of Tukwila has been very kind to us, so has SHAG and the developer of the building. They welcome us with open arms. We just want to do good in the community, and make good food.”
Starting this September, Boiser said Kona Kai will be offering a youth training program for high school students. He said the goal is to get the high schoolers ready for the real world and give them the experience they need to find a job faster than they would if they had not had a job like Kona Kai while they were in high school.
”If you want a job and want to learn, we’re here. You can learn what we have and take it to the next level,” Boiser said.