The Sweet Life

Hawaiian Vanilla Company takes the boring out of vanilla

By: Marty Wentzel

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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 year.

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 hospitality.

“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 business.

“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 coffee.

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 product.

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 said.

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