An employee and manager at the Waimea Coffee Company for almost four years, Alicia Greenwell is moving to Colorado in June and the shop blog caught up with her recently for the latest barista profile.
Greenwell, 28, also runs her own business called Four Elements Media, specializing in visual communications from photography to logo design. She has accounts with several business and, in fact, edits and publishes this very blog.
Born in Wailuku, Maui, Greenwell moved with her family to the Big Island as a 2-year-old. The oldest of three sisters, she attended Honoka’a High and had parents who made sure she stayed busy – camping in the mountains, going on outings to the beach, and playing sports (like soccer and distance running).
While in high school, she ran track and cross country and played soccer year-round with club teams. After graduating, she wanted to explore a bit.
“I was really eager to get off the island when I was a senior because it’s small here,” she says. “I had a strong itch to leave the nest.”
She landed at the University of Oregon, earning a degree in journalism, with an emphasis in magazine/visual communications.
“When I went to visit the school, it was a beautiful, sunny day, and white clouds and blue skies, and everyone kept on warning me, ‘It rains so much here.’” Greenwell recalls. “(But) the whole campus is gorgeous and this is where I want to go. … Sure enough, eight months out of the year I was there it was gray.”
After college, she shifted to Colorado to be close to a sister and ended up living in Denver where she “didn’t know anyone.” That is, until she encountered a woman in her late 80s named Nona.
“She just had this aura of … I am Nona. And she just demanded attention. She had this big ol’ purse, just this outfit that was awesome,” says Greenwell, who took a picture of her that day and adds that Nona is still dancing well into her 90s. “She started chatting with me, and she’s like, ‘If you’re new here, you should come with me to this ballroom dancing thing.’ And I said, ‘Sure, why not? I don’t know anyone here.’ So, I started doing that with her and going, and, yeah, she was my first friend. We’d meet up for coffee and tea and she would just tell me about her life.”
Greenwell first got into the coffee business in Denver, after hanging out a local shop called The French Press.
“I went up to the owner, I was just curious, like, ‘Are you guys hiring?’” recalls Greenwell. “He said, ‘I will not hire you until you have some experience in food service, running a register anything.’” So, Greenwell worked at an Einstein’s Bagels for two weeks, then quit because “I couldn’t handle working at a corporate place.”
However, she went back to The French Press, ultimately working there during the time she was in Denver and was re-hired when she later returned to Colorado. Greenwell still does design and website work for them. She notes: “(That’s) where I first started getting into coffee.”
Greenwell’s most recent return to the Big Island occurred in 2014, when she hooked on with the Waimea Coffee Company.
“Before I worked here, what drew me here really was just all the coffee, obviously. … The coffee was on point,” she says, noting that the workers would always remember her order. “It was nice, it felt like a home to me. Even though it was a coffee shop. … My social hour was here, basically.”
“In my natural state, I’m typically pretty quiet and shy and keep to myself. But, here, it brings out my more, I guess, energetic, high-energy side, which the coffee helps a lot.”
Emma Kauhane worked alongside Greenwell at Merriman’s Hawaii Restaurant before she was hired on at the Waimea Coffee Company.
“We met and became friends there. So, I was pretty excited to see her apply at WCC just after I started working. We’ve always got along really great; I’m pretty sure one day when we were closing together we decided to start a rap band and call ourselves the ‘Soul Cheeks,’” Kauhane says, before adding later: “She’s a genuine person, the kind of person that’s willing to put herself out there for you to learn from and feel comfortable to be around, and share your thoughts with. Definitely miss our talks and laughs together.”
Greenwell eventually took on more responsibilities at the shop.
“My favorite thing is that Mikey allows me to be myself here,” she says, citing the shop’s owner. “And allowing me that creative space to be able to pursue my passions outside of coffee. And that’s probably been the thing that’s kept me here the longest, is that he keeps on giving me challenges that I wouldn’t get at other jobs. … Where else would they trust just a regular employee to design their coffee labels? Or design their menus? And make the things that people see on a regular basis. Basically, their brand identity.”
“And trust me with that. To trust that I can do it. … For me, that’s huge. It keeps me on my toes. And allows me to push myself. And to not give up on my dream to own my own business. That I can do this. And it’s a dream that is achievable. And I’m totally capable of it. And it’s a consistent reminder of that.”
Of her impending move to back to Colorado (in June of 2018), Greenwell cites the reasons she will miss both Waimea Coffee Company and her home on the Big Island.
“Everywhere I go, I like trying different coffees and seeing how they serve it,” Greenwell says. “I love our coffee. There’s nothing I would change with our recipes. I think everything that we do here, coffee-wise, is on point. And I know that I won’t be able to find another coffee shop that does things the way that we do things here. We’re unique in that way. There’s some that are similar, but nothing exactly like it. Nothing that, where they can say that they have local coffee. On the mainland, no one else can grow coffee.”
Of the Big Island, she says: “What I’m going to miss the most about Hawaii is … people. There’s no place else in the world like it.”
“Hawaii, this place is home for me. When I was younger, I denied it. I was like, ‘I don’t want this to be my home. I’m going to explore the world. And, I’ll never move back home.’ And, I’ve moved back probably twice now. It’s a place that always calls back to me. And I know I’ll eventually settle here,” she says. “(But) I’m not ready for that yet. And there’s one more good adventure that I need. And then I think I’ll be ready to settle here and invest in my community here. That’s, ideally, what I’d like to do when I come back this next bit.”
For now, the future beckons back on the mainland, where Greenwell and boyfriend Josh Robinson, also a Big Island native and graduate of Honoka’a High, will venture without a certain plan yet.
“It’s pretty exciting. She likes traveling. It’ll be a good experience, to have a new area to explore and to be able to pursue what we like doing,” says Robinson, who hopes to put his computer science degree to use and take advantage of the ample hiking and outdoor recreation possibilities. “Just the fact that we’re going together. It’s reassuring that we have each other.”
Written By: Timothy Scott | Photos By: Kathrine Kauhane