Forward by Coffee Times (1993-present) publisher, Les Drent
Prior to starting Coffee Times magazine Les Drent started his Hawaiʻi business career in 1992 as a boardwalk photographer at the Kona Inn Shopping Village in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. He rented a small closet from Konaʻs famed Uncle Billy Kim and used that space to operate a dark room he bought at a yard sale. Each evening around dinner time Les would roll out coffee plantation props on the boardwalk and set the stage for tourists who would anxiously dress up in mumus (Hawaiian dresses) and other coffee farm clothing to have their photos taken. Les then turned these photos into old plantation sepia toned portraits which he framed and either mailed home, or delivered to customers at their hotels.
After a year, or so of running his plantation portrait business, Les looked to the future and used his earnings to purchase his first Apple computer, printer, and a graphic design software called Pagemaker. Inspired by a book called Kona Echo (https://www.amazon.com/Kona-
Echo/dp/B001THXSXE), written by Jiro Nakano, M.D. about the life of Dr. Harvey Saburo Hayashi, Les became interested in publishing a magazine that would pride itself by promoting the local Kona Coffee farming industry. Dr. Hayashi was a well respected pioneer in the early Japanese plantation community. He was a prolific writer, and a social advocate who published and printed a Japanese speaking newspaper called Kona Echo (https://hojishinbun.hoover. org/?a=cl&cl=CL1&sp=knh&) while also serving as a physician for farmers and workers in Kona. He was a spirited writer that could also right the perceived wrongs of the day, and he never took payment from the poor. He settled labor disputes, and helped farmers establish their first contracts with the large companies that dominated the Kona coffee trade. As guiding inspiration from this book and life of Dr. Hayashi in the spring of 1993, Les achieved his ultimate goal of publishing a magazine that he called the Coffee Times Big Island Visitor Guide. After giving away free advertisements to island businesses in the first printing, nearly 90% signed up for advertising in the following issues, and a publishing business was born!
After the first few issues were printed by Hawaii Hochi Press (https://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Hawaii_Hochi) Les purchased used equipment to do the work himself. He printed these monthly magazines inside a former roadside macadamia nut mill shed in Holualoa, Hawaii, the same village Dr. Hayashi ran his press from. Les not only wrote the stories and designed the magazine, but he sold and built the advertisements, took the photos, burned the plates, printed, delivered, and managed the finances. To say this was easy would be a gross understatement.
"I donʻt think an hour passed where my Ryobi sheet fed printing press didnʻt skip a page, clog with paper, or need some mechanical attention! My twenty four station AB Dick magazine bindery system sometimes either inserted or didnʻt insert pages. Eventually I realized it was easier to just pay a group of women to collate, and stitch the magazine by hand! The days, and nights of work were extremely long and seemed endless at times. The deliveries took a full 20 hours of driving on an island larger in land than all the other Hawaiʻian islands combined. Driving my 1980 VW Vanagon I plunged in and out of the deep valleys of Hamakua, and through darkness of Volcano Village that smelled of sulphur with the glow of lava in the distance. The many stops in downtown Hilo reminded me of a Hawaiʻi from the 1930ʻs, and Pahoa village made me feel like I was driving into a Woodstock of 1968. The smooth pavement and manicured golf courses of the rritzy resorts of North Kohala gave me the feeling of a celebrity publisher, and the cool ranch lands of Waimea under snow capped Mauna Kea reminded me of home. The villages of Honokaʻa, Hawi and Kapaʻau in the north and Naalehu and Pahala in the south gave me glimpses into what plantation life was like in the past with old movie theatres and store fronts. Along the winding Mamalahoa Highway I wanted to stop at every old Japanese American owned store I passed as they held all the local flavors including crack seed, musubi, manapua, and . I was always entertained by the travel. I met and shared experiences with so many great people and businesses along the way. Evonne Bjornen and Uncle Paul were always there to welcome me with a warm meal, and drink at Hale Kai Bed and Breakfast over looking Honoliʻi Bay. Meggi Worbach from Holuakoa Cafe, in Holualoa was always there to sustain my publishing efforts as she would drop by with coffee and a pastry while I was closing up the print shop and she was heading into her coffee shop at 5am! We were all small business owners, living in a naturally magnificent and diverse place, and we all did our best to support each other before the maps and apps on our phones started to lead us around.” Les
By the fall of 1993, and with money flowing, Les realized he had few farmers advertising in a magazine that was intended to support the 100% Kona coffee industry. Seeing that he had the advertising audience and venue, he decided to start his fresh roasted 100% Kona coffee business. Through his own advertisements he either shipped or delivered 100% Kona coffee beans to tourists. Prior to first taking credit cards for mail order, Les printed order forms in his magazine and simply asked customers to mail a check with the form. If they chose to call the 1-800-750-KONA (5662) number to order he would still ship the coffee and simply wait for the check to arrive. Eventually he began taking American Express card numbers by phone, or by mail through forms completed by hand. He then hand mailed these receipts to a Honolulu merchant bank for processing. Les is proud to say that he never once was taken advantage of by trusting customers to send in payments after the coffee shipped. In 1994 Les purchased a small 5 pound Sivetz Coffee air roaster from Andy Roy, who owned Bay View Farms in Honaunau. Andy was a fellow New Hampshire native and after a friendship was struck, Les was able to roast his own 100% Kona coffee beans.
Since 1993 Les has continued publishing stories about Hawaiʻiʻs history, people, culture and is still an ardent supporter of the 100% Kona coffee industry as well as supporting all things farming in the islands.
While the magazine is no longer printed, and we now rely on digital publishing I hope you will enjoy reading these early Coffee Times magazines!