Lonohana Chocolate Launches Factory Tours in Kakaʻako
Taste your way through each step of making 100% Hawai‘i-grown chocolate.
It takes a lot to shell out 16 bucks for a bar of chocolate. You want to support local, you know it will taste better, but that $4 bar is just so much more wallet-friendly. The new Lonohana Chocolate factory tour is an eye-opening look at what goes into that $16 bar—more than our higher costs of shipping, packaging, land, health care and everything else, the tour opens a window into Lonohana’s North Shore cacao grove and how the pods are transformed into 100% Hawaiʻi-grown chocolate, with samples to taste every step of the way.
The chocolate factory, originally located in Kalihi, is just three blocks from Lonohana’s retail shop at the Salt at Our Kaka‘ako complex. It occupies the old Kewalo Theatre on Queen Street, a hub of entertainment for the working-class community dating back to 1937. The new space is a throwback to the old one, so you start your tour in a salon of velvet couches and vintage mirrors, a dramatic theater-like setting in aquatic blues and greens with gold accents.
Here, you learn that Lonohana owner Seneca Klassen took 14 acres of dried-up sugarcane fields in 2008 and turned them into a regenerated agricultural forest filled with koa, mahogany, milo and cacao trees shooting up from rich, dark soil. When he began making chocolate in 2013, the result was a full expression of high-fat Hawaiian cacao—bright, fruity and luxurious.
The room you enter next lets you feel what it is like to be in Klassan’s cacao grove in the ahupua‘a of Pa‘ala‘a. It shows you Klassen’s farming practices and how he ferments and dries the beans—where the majority of chocolate’s flavor comes from—and you can taste fresh cacao straight out of the pod.
Now, comes the donning of protective gear before you head into the actual factory. Above your head is the proscenium of the old movie house, with art deco images celebrating the ocean and the people who worked on it when Kaka‘ako consisted of salt ponds. It’s easy to imagine how exciting it must have been to watch a film here during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Some of the equipment in the factory is as old as the theater. There are stories about the pieces, including a 1918 winnower from Barcelona and a 70-year-old melanger from Germany that weighs over 5,000 pounds. All this while you’re tasting at each step how the cacao is altered.
Back in the salon, you’re treated to a tasting of finished chocolates flavored with local ingredients such as Moloka‘i ‘Alaea sea salt and Ka‘u coffee—plus 10% off any chocolate you purchase in the retail shop. An added bonus here is Sol Cafe, a coffee cart owned by former Lonohana employee Ramiro Castro that pops up five days a week with thoughtfully sourced coffee. Be sure to try the Jasmine Tea Mocha, a blend of specialty coffee from Castro’s hometown in El Salvador, paired with Lonohana Jasmine Tea Dark Milk Chocolate.
Will local chocolate ever be affordable? Klassen understands that this is a pain point. During COVID-19, he began a new line of chocolates called Onomea. It debuted in 2021 with whimsical flavors such as Matcha Crunch and Lime in the Coconut (Macadamia Nut Sea Salt is my favorite) at half the price of Lonohana’s bars. But the major takeaway of the day isn’t the deal, but rather an education on the true cost of chocolate.
Lonohana Chocolate factory tours are held on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and cost $56 for adults and children over 13, $46 for kids 8 to 12. Kama‘āina discounts of $10 are available.