Jim and Tracy Reddekopp, owners of
Hawaiian Vanilla Company on the Big Island.
The Hawaiian Vanilla Company does business out in the boonies. It’s
the kind of place where, when a guy asks his wife what she wants
for her birthday, she says “a paved road.” But whether clients head
there in a rental car or as part of a group, they’ll agree that
it’s a sweet destination well worth the trip.
Run by Jim Reddekopp and his wife Tracy, the 25-acre Big Island
farm on the northeast Hamakua Coast presents teas, tastings and
luncheons appealing to clients with an interest in agriculture,
cooking, dining and island lifestyle. The road leading to the
property don’t worry, it’s paved winds through an aromatic
eucalyptus forest in a lush area blessed by 120 inches of rain each
The day I tried the four-course luncheon, I quickly realized
that this is more than a husband-and-wife act. As I sipped my
vanilla-infused ice tea (followed by an equally tasty vanilla
lemonade), I watched the five Reddekopp children ages 5-13 wait on
the tables with poise and professionalism. Tracy oversees the
kitchen, dreaming up an endless stream of vanilla-inspired recipes,
while Jim serves as the front man with a genuine smile and
“We moved here for the quiet life,” Reddekopp told me. “We chose
this lifestyle because we wanted to raise our kids on a farm.”
All the children are home-schooled, and everyone helps out with
“The kids have been right there with us during our failures and
our victories,” he added.
The Reddekopps bought a rambling wooden structure seven years
ago. After its former lives as a coffee mill and a slaughterhouse,
it sat vacant for 35 years. The couple transformed it into a cheery
yellow-and-white homestead, inside of which is a big dining room
with high ceilings and a tile floor. Bright paint and a plethora of
windows make this a cheery spot to enjoy a meal.
Since Tracy works primarily with area-grown products, the lunch
menu changes according to season, but it always benefits from the
use of vanilla. On my visit, the meal started with local salad
greens topped with skanikopita, stuffed with goat cheese from a
farm just up the road and laced with vanilla oil. Daughter Emma
served me a cup of Tuscan white bean soup with fresh vegetables,
accompanied by spicy homemade focaccia bread with vanilla-honey
butter. The main course, presented by son Isaac, was a roulade of
locally raised beef. Little Aidan brought dessert, an almond cake
with vanilla ice cream and vanilla sauce, paired with vanilla
At the end of the lunch, Reddekopp showed a brief video about
the intricacies of raising vanilla for instance, each blossom must
be pollinated by hand. He then talked about how to make extract
using a vanilla bean pod.
“Vanilla is one of the costliest spices in the world,” he said.
“So why did we choose to grow it? Because it’s romantic, and
there’s no end to its uses.”
Born and raised on Oahu, Reddekopp has a tourism background, and
his business savvy has benefited the vanilla venture. The farm
attracts 10,000 people a year. The family tends to a
30,000-square-foot greenhouse with 20,000 plants producing 300
pounds of vanilla per year, and 24 restaurants carry their
The Hawaiian Vanilla Company does a steady business with
passengers from the cruise ships that dock on the Big Island. The
Reddekopps can tailor the experience to meet the needs of groups,
from foodies to farmers.
“We’ve created a destination where people can see vanilla grow,
taste it in creative dishes and take it home with them,” Reddekopp
After lunch, Reddekopp took our group outside and talked about
the area, where the number-one industry is agriculture. He pointed
out trees, ferns, flowers and herbs of interest. Most participants
stopped by the company’s gallery, which sells vanilla-inspired
products like lip balm, salad dressing, stationery with drawings of
vanilla orchids, and coffees and teas.
Reddekopp spoke enthusiastically about his vision of working
with other farmers to turn Hamakua into a vital agri-tourism
destination showcasing the diversity of products that thrive in the
region. “We’d like to do the same kind of thing that Napa Valley
does with the grape,” he said.
But for now, the Hawaiian Vanilla Company is a must-see
attraction in the Big Island countryside.
Hawaiian Vanilla Company
43-2007 Paauilo Mauka Rd.
Paauilo, HI 96776
Hawaiian Vanilla Experience Luncheon: A four-course meal for $39
per adult and $15 per child ages 4-12 (under 3 free).
Hawaiian Vanilla Tasting: A 45-minute presentation with samples
for $15 per person.
Upcountry Tea: Treats for $35 per person.
Travel agents get a 10 percent discount on the luncheon and
tasting. Advance reservations required.
Commission: 10 percent