Food for the Soul
Growing up on Molokai as the children of business owners, the Torres siblings wanted to be entrepreneurs from a young age.
“We made our own stores at home out of canned goods, empty cans, whatever we could find,” remembered Rosie Torres-Batara, one of seven sisters. “That’s how it all started.”
Years later, the seven sisters and one brother are still in business together, only now it’s more than a game of pretend. In a row of storefronts across from Kaunakakai’s Veterans Memorial Park, the family runs three businesses next to each other. Store House, a restaurant, opened in the location in 2013, followed by The Attic, a clothing boutique. Last month sisters Nora Espaniola and Marlene Sproat kick started their latest business venture, a health food store called Simply Natural.
Sproat, co-owner of Espresso Bar in Kualapu`u, said they wanted to bring more specialty health products to the island as Molokai’s only other health food store, Outpost Natural Foods, has struggled to maintain inventory.
“Nora is a health nut. She always wanted to open a health food store,” said Sproat. “We had an opportunity … and we see a need in the community.”
Simply Natural is packed with rows of organic salad dressings and syrups, energy bars, loaves of grain-rich bread and packages of baby food. The shelves are stocked with medicinal products, and the fridge holds vegetarian products like Tofurky. The store also has a small lunch menu that includes organic Thai curry and lentil soup.
Customer Colleen Bordeaux said she’s glad to see these products return to Molokai.
“These are the kinds of things that are needed here,” she said, holding up a jar of collagen for skin, hair and nails. “Or else I’m gonna have to go Honolulu, which is $100 round trip. I can spend it on the island instead.”
Sproat said their father was a minister as well as a clothing shop owner, and now as business owners themselves, physical and spiritual wellness are central to their mission.
“We try to be the agent for health and for peace,” said Espaniola. “One of our major goals is to always smile and to help people be in a joyful mood.”
Through their nonprofit Ohana Ministries, located behind the shops, the family helps people start their own businesses or find jobs. At the Store House, run by Torres-Batara, they have a “Marketplace Ministry” to meet people’s physical and emotional needs. When it looks like a customer needs to talk, said Torres-Batara, workers will stop and offer conversation, prayers or the occasional free meal.
“Our parents used to take in people a lot. They would feed and clothe them until they were ready to go on their own,” said Sproat. “Sometimes they stayed for years. We witnessed all these things and I think our parents [instilled] that in us. … We enjoy giving service.”
Despite financial difficulties, Outpost owner Dennis Turner said he has no plans to close the store that’s been on island for more than 30 years. Over the past year, Outpost ran low on funding, and with a limited inventory, the store couldn’t generate enough sales to cover their expenses.
But Turner said he’s cutting costs and doing special orders for residents that allows the store to bring in a little extra inventory at the same time. He described its status as “recovery mode,” and in the meantime, stocking locally grown produce. Outpost also has vitamins, supplements and select organic grains, and offers smoothies while searching for a cook to run the lunch counter.
Sproat added Simply Natural is “not to take away” from Outpost, but to create “an extension” of what the business has done for the island’s health food industry.
“We said, ‘Let’s tap into the health food industry just to have something available here for Molokai,” said Espaniola. “… We always talk about eating better. But eating better is more than just eating a salad. It’s the stuff you put in [your food].”
Simply Natural’s tentative hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturdays 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Outpost’s hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays 12-6 p.m.