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Bringing Creativity and a Touch of Magic to Award-Winning Coffee

By Sarah Hodges


Just a little over a year ago Emily Rose Carr Hunt painted the finishing touches and opened for business at PeleKai Coffee, located inside Still & Moving Center. Little did she know, she’d soon be winning the Best Of Hawai’i award for the number one coffee shop in the state! As a kicker, Starbucks, a giant corporation that has been in Hawai’i for almost 30 years, came in second place. As a ‘new kid on the block’, PeleKai is bringing something very special to the coffee shop scene in Hawai’i.

For years, Emily gathered ideas in her sketchbooks for a specialty coffee house, filled with bright colors, great coffee, tea, and homemade treats. She recalls having had the dream for over a decade – both day and night – of owning a coffee shop, envisioning sharing a meaningful space for lively and heartfelt connections, creativity, and imagination. (Read the full story of her inspiring shop opening here). Today, Emily is getting to see this vision in real life, watching with joy as customers interact and are wowed by her delicious, rainbow-themed menu.

“One of the big surprises was having customers ask for my suggestion when they weren’t sure what to order. I would usually follow that up with a custom-made drink, based on what I could feel from the customer,” says Emily. “It brought customers so much joy, that some have started telling their friends to let me ‘read’ them and make a drink from what I could see would lift their mood or bring them joy and balance.” Emily loves watching customers light up and have a positive experience in their day. “Sometimes it might be for just a short time while they’re at the cafe,” Emily explains.

Across the room at Still & Moving Center’s reception desk, staffer Chandra Matassa observes many of Emily’s early morning encounters. “Some days people come in really grumpy. Somehow, Emily goes to a different level with them. She gets under all that grumpiness and gets them to laugh. Once they walk away from her counter with one of Emily’s treats or hot drinks in their hands, they’re always smiling. She changes people’s day.”

Emily has become very open to her customers’ ideas and desires to collaborate in the PeleKai Coffee space. A few months after opening, Still & Moving Center’s Mālia Helelā proposed the idea of starting an in-house band. Now, every last Friday of the month you can come to PeleKai at 6:30pm and hear Malia’s beautiful musical duo, Kai Ea. The soothing local songs create just the kind of welcoming, joyful atmosphere that PeleKai Coffee is all about.

Recently, Arthur Grau, a coloring book author and, Mika Erickson, percussionist and sound healing practitioner, got to talking together over a cup of coffee. “I’d been thinking we should have a coloring book dedicated to Hawaiian culture,” says Emily. “Then, this customer told me he just made a kids’ coloring book about produce. He wanted to spark conversations about different body types, using vegetables to do so.” Sponsored by Emily, the threesome came up with a weekend event at PeleKai, filled with art, coloring, and stories of Hawai’i against the soundscape of beautiful live music.

Emily looks forward to many more collaborations and welcomes creatives to use her coffee shop as a place to dream and even possibly concoct other community-enhancing events such as this coloring-music weekend workshop.

Emily loves to connect with her customers and make sure they feel welcomed and cared for while they’re at PeleKai Coffee. No doubt, her enthusiasm contributed to her customer’s loyalty and their votes for her to become a 2023 Best of Hawai’i 1st place winner.

A very big congratulations to Emily and PeleKai Coffee for winning first place as the best coffee shop in Hawai’i in this year’s KITV Best of Hawai’i awards!


1024 Queen Street, Inside Still & Moving Center



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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)