Hula Daddy / by Brian Beck

It's been a beautiful week in Hawaii with my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and their two boys.  The kids have gotten along famously and we've been able to have some adult conversations and adult beverages to go along with a spectacular setting. Despite the fact that Hurricane Hilda churned offshore for most of the week, casting a shadow with the specter of a direct hit to the Big Island, after a little hula dance yesterday she headed south, and apart from a little choppy surf, didn't bother us at all. As a result, the weather has been nothing short of amazing.

We've taken advantage of it.  We've been to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we've been snorkeling several times and we've done a traditional luau (which I'm slightly embarrassed to admit is my first one, despite having lost track of how many times we've been to Hawaii).  The excursion that grabbed my attention most though was a short visit to the Hula Daddy coffee plantation.

I have an old friend from O'Melveny that I've stayed connected with on Facebook.  Heather is a model for charting one's own course.  Her husband is a coffee shop consultant (yes, that's an occupation that really exists) and as some of you may know, some of the best coffee in the world comes from right here in Kona.  It made sense for him to be nearer to the action and so she struck a deal with her firm to work remotely from Hawaii.  She's been our internet guide this week, recommending local restaurants and activities, all of which have reflected her excellent taste.  "If you're interested in touring a coffee farm," she said, "Hula Daddy does a nice job and isn't too far from you.  The owners are good friends of ours."  Done and done.

Hula Daddy is a pretty small operation, with 11 acres of coffee trees at the main farm and another recently acquired 20 acre plot further up the hill. It's a small batch operation, producing only a few thousand pounds per year, but what they don't have in volume is made up for in quality as their coffees have cleaned up in competition, scoring among the top coffees in the world.  It's a success story to be sure, and while I admire people who are unafraid to enter a crowded space because they are sure they can do it better, that's only part of the story here.

Lee Paterson, the owner, was an attorney at Winston and Strawn until retirement forced him out at age 65. He wasn't ready to be done and he was inspired by a couple of O'Melveny lawyers who quit the practice of law to create a winery in Santa Barbara.  "I know those guys," I chimed in at this point in the story, amazed that it really is a small world. Lee didn't really have a passion for coffee per se, but his wife wanted to live in Hawaii so he decided to try growing coffee as the analog to the Santa Barbara winery idea.

As we chatted, I explained my career sabbatical status and how I'm looking for ideas that will energize me again.  Lee was unphased.  "It takes a certain kind of person to buy our coffees, so I see a lot of professionals, a lot of lawyers," he explained, "and a lot of them will say 'how did you do it?' Well, the only thing stopping you is you." 

As we drove across the mountain to a little lunch spot my friend Heather recommended, I replayed the conversation in my head as I looked out across the lush green hills to the sapphire water in the distance.  For the first time since July I allowed my mind to peer over the abyss that I've been consciously avoiding (and will continue to avoid until I finish the road trip in September).  There's a lot I still don't know but I do know this:  I don't want it to ever be said that the only thing that stopped me was me.