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Having Words With Michael Haith “The Big Kahuna,” Maui Wowi Hawaiian

Having Words With Michael Haith “The Big Kahuna,” Maui Wowi Hawaiian

Ten years ago Michael Haith became majority shareholder in Maui Wowi Hawaiian, founded in 1983 as an operation selling fresh-fruit smoothies from carts at fairs and street festivals. Today, the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based chain has nearly 500 franchised units, kiosks and carts, which specialize in Hawaiian coffees, smoothies and other products. The first international unit opened recently in Singapore.

Haith began his foodservice career in 1989 as a franchisee of Pour la France! Restaurant Group and later founded Commercial Recreation Management Inc., a food-and-beverage consulting firm for festivals and event venues. He was first introduced to Maui Wowi in 1997, and a year later he teamed with founders Jeff and Jill Summerhays to expand the operation into a franchise “ohana,” or family, run according to the Hawaiian values of harmony and balanced living.

To acquaint franchisees with Hawaiian culture, Haith leads them on seven-day tours of the islands.

“The Big Kahuna’s” corporate title, by the way, is president and chairman.

Why has a Hawaiian-theme concept caught on?

I think Hawaiian is something everyone loves, combined with quality products. Kona coffee is about as good as you can get.

What are your growth plans?

We will increase by another 20 percent this year and ultimately expand internationally. Our first master franchise in Singapore just opened a couple of weeks ago.

What do you look for in a franchisee?

We look for people who understand how difficult it is to own one’s own business, and we look for somebody who understands the Hawaiian attitude.


AGE: 45EDUCATION: Journalism degree from the University of Colorado at BoulderBIRTHPLACE: Los AngelesHOBBIES: keeps a salt-water aquariumPERSONAL: married, two children

How do you define that attitude?

It’s really good karma. Treat your customers the way you like to be treated. Don’t cut corners, offer the best possible products. Our franchisees work together to help the others be successful.

Does the Hawaiian tour help franchisees with their operations?

It really does. We do a kind of backstage tour of all the coffee farms and macadamia farms and all of our suppliers. We want people to “get it.” [Maui Wowi] is not just a retail operation. It is really understanding the culture and what we’re all about. The more we understand the vision, the more success all the franchisees have.

Generally, what mistakes do companies make when they try to grow?

I think more companies are victims of ego than any one reason. People want bigger stores and they want bigger signage and they want more employees and they want more office space and they want more revenue. They believe bigger is better. Understand who you are and stay within yourself, and above all don’t let your ego get in the way.

What motivates you?

I love the food business. I’m motivated by building organizations from nothing, or from very small beginnings, and helping other people achieve what they want to achieve. I built a career getting what I want by helping other people get what they want.

What would you tell others who are considering becoming entrepreneurs?

Make the right decision, or make the decision right. And that just takes a huge amount of commitment, persistence and effort.

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