Mari’s Gardens, an 18-acre-farm in Mililani operated by the Lau Family, has long been a chief supplier of produce to Hawaii’s restaurants, hotels, and cruise ships. All those industries were virtually shut down in March 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic.
“When they actually shut down restaurants, they shut down hotels also basically and so, the phone calls were coming in all day,” said Fred Lau, who started Mari’s Gardens in 2001. “We basically lost 60 to 70% of our revenue in a matter of days.”
As if the pain of lost business wasn’t enough, the Laus couldn’t just dump 15,000 pounds of lettuce ready for distribution. “It’s not like a water faucet,” Lau said. “You can’t turn off production. You can save this. There’s no way you stop this from growing and by next week, this is too old to sell.”
So came their first pivot: Drive-thru sales for the general public ― and the community responded. “I was taking all of our orders through text message and we were getting a hundred orders and it was crazy,” said Mariko Lau, who operates the retail portion of Mari’s Gardens.
“We never expected to get so much orders per day and it just kept building from there.”
That kind of activity provided the perfect momentum for their next move, Mari’s Urban Garden, a Kakaako storefront whose opening was delayed in the pandemic. “Over the past year, we’ve transitioned more into house plants and indoor plants,” Mariko said. “The smaller stuff that people can put into their homes. We’re also really known for our house plants and our succulents and things like that as well.”
As restaurants and hotels start to reopen, the family is hopeful for an eventual return to pre-COVID business, but the pandemic has highlighted the need for a renewed focus on the local consumer.
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