Ohana Coffee celebrates an anniversary of family service

In Hawaii, the term “ohana” means family – but with a meaning that is 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 also means more than her own family, despite being a family business.

“Hawaii is our family’s happy place,” she said.

“At ‘Ohana, the customers are my family and so are the employees.”

‘Ohana celebrated her 10th birthday last 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. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

A sunset echoes the colors of ‘Ohana Coffee Company. Photo courtesy of ‘Ohana by Miranda Wilson

“Ohana stands out for its azure color and logo, which Gray says was designed by his good friend Trina Packard.

Gray said she hoped to continue to operate the stand, perhaps with her son taking more control, as a “friendly, family-run, thriving business and provide good, steady employment for many great people”.

She said she realizes that running a successful business requires hiring quality employees and treating them well.

“A good coffee stand worker should be able to multi-task,” while emphasizing good customer service, she explained.

Gray said she was always paid more than minimum wage, and of her six current employees, four of them have either been with ‘Ohana since the beginning or left for other activities and returned.

Photo by Kelsey Horst, courtesy of 'Ohana Coffee Company

“From the day I started, I’ve loved everything about ‘Ohana,” said Kaylee Brown, one of his newest recruits.

“Every day I look forward to getting to work to make coffee and see the clients we’ve met. I so appreciate the people I work with.

“Making coffee is one of my favorite things to do and I’m extremely happy to be able to do it at ‘Ohana and with my colleagues.”

“Ohana has been a family business since the beginning. In 2011, Gray’s daughter-in-law “worked really hard there,” Gray said. “She really made a lot of boots on the court.”

Gray’s son is her “right hand man”, while her husband fixes things and runs errands.

“All” Gray does, she says, is “routine business”: working with employees, buying supplies, and so on.

For Gray, time off means when she’s not working her 12-hour shifts as a full-time intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Olympic Medical Center. She said that in intensive care they also felt like family and that through the stress of COVID-19 they were keeping each other sane.

Photo by Kelsey Horst, courtesy of 'Ohana Coffee Company

Photo by Kelsey Horst, courtesy of ‘Ohana Coffee Company

Gray’s work at 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 lucky to have a good job to complete the first years.”

She said that in the beginning, ‘because it was an existing stand, one thing after another blew us away’ – from buying a new coffee machine to replacing a broken fridge to buying all the supplies like cups, straws, napkins, cup holders, etc., to investing a lot of money in infrastructure.

“Over time,” she said, “things add up.”

COVID adjustments

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gray let her employees decide when to return to work.

Ohana owner Lori Gray at her coffee stand near the 101 freeway. Photo by Kelsey Horst, courtesy of 'Ohana

Ohana owner Lori Gray at her coffee stand near the 101 freeway. Photo by Kelsey Horst, courtesy of ‘Ohana

“The girls wanted to go back to work after a few weeks,” she said. “They were bored at home.”

Gray’s background as a nurse helped make the booth safe for its employees and customers. Everyone received masks, gloves and bottles of hand sanitizer. The staff came up with a policy on how to handle cards and money.

“We have amazing clients; they have stayed with us throughout the service changes,” Gray said.

“We added more groceries because (with the closures) people couldn’t go to restaurants.”

She said running the business has been a proverbial climb, but having good people around her has helped.

“It’s a busy life, but I’m super, super grateful…I’m really grateful to have had great employees to stay with me,” Gray said.

“I’m so grateful to have a great boss that I can look up to too,” Brown said.

“Bravo to 10 years of Ohana.”

On a cold, wet, and windy November day, Madeline Keehn and Kaylee Brown whip up hot drinks at 'Ohana Coffee Company, located at 41 Gilbert Rd, Sequim, just off the north side of Hwy 101. 'Ohana celebrated its 10th anniversary this October.  Sequim Gazette photo by Emily Matthiessen

On a cold, wet, and windy November day, Madeline Keehn and Kaylee Brown whip up hot drinks at ‘Ohana Coffee Company, located at 41 Gilbert Rd, Sequim, just off the north side of Hwy 101. ‘Ohana celebrated its 10th anniversary this October. Sequim Gazette photo by Emily Matthiessen

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