In Hawaii, the term “ohana” means family — but with a meaning more inclusive than blood family, and more complicated than extended family.
When Lori Gray, owner of ‘Ohana Coffee Company near Carlsborg, uses the word, she means more than her own family, too, though it is a family-run business.
“Hawaii is our family’s happy place,” she said.
“At ‘Ohana, the customers are my family and the employees are as well.”
‘Ohana celebrated its 10-year anniversary this October. Located at 41 Gilbert Road in Sequim, it offers standard and specialty drinks — some with Hawaiian or Sequim themes and others named after loyal customers — as well as food. Hours are 6 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturdays and Sunday.
‘Ohana stands out because of its bright azure color and the logo, which Gray said was designed by her good friend Trina Packard.
Gray said she hopes to continue operating the stand, possibly with her son taking more control, as a “friendly, family-oriented, successful business and to provide good steady employment for lots of great people.”
She said she’s aware that to run a successful business one must hire quality employees and treat them well.
“A good coffee stand employee has to be able to multi-task,” as well as emphasizing good customer service, she explained.
Gray said she’s always paid more than minimum wage, and of her current six employees, four of them have either been with ‘Ohana since the beginning or left for other pursuits and come back.
“From the day I started I loved everything about ‘Ohana,” said Kaylee Brown, one her most recent hires.
“Every day I look forward to coming into work making coffee and seeing the customers that we have come through. I enjoy the people I work with so much.
“Making coffee is one of my favorite things to do and I’m so extremely happy I get to do it at ‘Ohana and with my coworkers.”
‘Ohana has been a family business from the beginning. Back in 2011, Gray’s daughter-in-law “worked really hard there,” Gray said. “She really did a lot of the boots on the ground business.”
Gray’s son is her “right hand man,” while her husband fixes things and runs errands.
“All” Gray does, she said, is “the day-to-day business stuff”: working with the employees, buying supplies, and more.
For Gray, time off means when she is not working her 12-hour shifts as a full-time intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Olympic Medical Center. She said that in the ICU they feel like family too, and that through the COVID-19 stress they keep each other sane.
Gray’s work at the ICU made the coffee stand possible, as it took about five years to become solvent.
“Most small businesses take several years to become profitable,” she said. “I was fortunate that I had a good job to supplement the first few years.”
She said that in the beginning, “because it was an existing stand, one thing after another nickel-and-dimed us” — from buying a new coffee machine, to replacing a broken refrigerator to buying all the supplies like cups, straws, napkins, drink holders, etc., to putting a lot of money into infrastructure.
“Over time,” she said, “things just add up.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gray let her employees decide when to return to work.
“The girls wanted to come back to work after a couple of weeks,” she said. “They were bored at home.”
Gray’s background as a nurse helped make the stand safe for her employees and customers. Everyone got masks, gloves and bottles of hand sanitizer. The staff came up with a policy of how to handle the cards and cash.
“We have amazing customers; they stuck with us through the changes in service,” Gray said.
“We added more food items because (with the shutdowns) people couldn’t go into restaurants.”
She said running the business has been a proverbial uphill climb, but having good people around her has helped.
“It’s a busy life but I am super, super grateful … I’m really grateful I’ve had good employees to hang in there with me,” Gray said.
“I’m so thankful for having a great boss who I can look up too,” Brown said.
“Cheers to 10 years of Ohana.”