Sumner Ohye used to park his food truck along the curb, selling coffee and shave ice to college students at the University of Hawaii. Years later, with four coffee shops and a fifth opening soon, the name stuck. The Curb is one of my favorite places in Hawaii to get coffee, for good reason.
When you come into The Curb, you never know when you might be warmly greeted by Sumner, because he’s always traveling around to his different locations. He’s doing taste tests, experimenting with different recipes, making sure things are running smoothly, and chatting with customers.
Sumner spent years crafting the experience at The Curb that both locals and tourists have come to know and love.
If it’s your first time to The Curb, you will spend a few minutes pouring over their menu, unsure if you should have a latte, cappuccino, flat white, Americano, or a macchiato.
Coffee purists will have to choose among an espresso, pour over, or a french press. If it’s a particularly hot day, sometimes I’ll go for the nitro cold brew.
My favorite part of the menu are the customizations, including a variety of syrups: Maui vanilla, Maui Kula Ali’i lavender, Hamakua Macadamia nut, and mocha.
And if you don’t like coffee, don’t worry – there is something for everyone here. Tea lovers can choose from an assortment of bagged or loose leaf teas, with flavors like earl grey, white peony, Moroccan mint, Jasmine green. Also on offer are a chai tea latte and a matcha tea latte. Their iced teas are my favorite on hot days.
You’ll place your order and take a seat while the baristas make each individual drink. You will have a seat, and a barista will bring you your coffee along with a glass of water. Their outside seating allows you to enjoy your coffee while also enjoying Hawaii’s weather. Inside, plenty of outlets invite students and those who work remotely to stay as long as they want.
Michelle knows my drink – an almond milk latte with lavender syrup, and she begins making it as soon as I walk in.
As I get about halfway through my cup of coffee, a message written on inside the of the cup appears: “Half Full.” I love it every time.
Working as a barista at Starbucks fostered Sumner’s love for and interest in coffee. Naturally, customers would ask him questions. He wanted to find out more information so that he could provide them with better answers, so he started doing his own research on coffee.
That’s the kind of barista you always want to have.
A smart businessman, Sumner began slowly. Rather than go out right away to buy a food truck, he first tested the waters by selling shave ice at car shows. As he learned more about the business, he took his first big risk. He bought a food truck on Ebay – sight unseen – and had it shipped out to Hawaii.
Now that Sumner had more space and equipment, he decided to sell both shave ice and coffee – a smart move in Hawaii, where we love our coffee.
Anyone who comes to Hawaii will undoubtedly see the many food trucks. Sumner began his food truck business by teaming up with other food trucks. Working together, they would go to different spots every day at lunch time.
This was a good way to start, but Sumner knew that being in one spot every day would be better for business. He especially wanted to be somewhere in the morning, because that’s when everyone wants to get their coffee fix.
He got his big break when the University of Hawaii asked him to come on campus with his truck. Sumner would park along the curb all day. College students are prime coffee customers, and the business did so well that he eventually moved into a permanent location on the campus. The location still stands today.
His success with college students prompted Sumner to open a location in Kaimuki, Oahu.
Later, the opportunity came to buy the rights to the lease from Peet’s coffee in Kailua. I came to The Curb in Kailua during the first few months it had opened, and it immediately won me over.
Sumner knows that prime business locations are just as important as the coffee he serves, so he has been very careful in deciding where to open new locations. When a promising location in Washington opened up, he opened the fourth location there. Washington, as he says, is a coffee mecca, so it was important for him to make his mark there.
When I asked Sumner how he chooses which coffee he sells, he told me that his focus is intentional coffee. He is very passionate about coffee and only wants to provide the best to his customers. I find that this passion shows through on every cup The Curb sells.
He buys coffee from farmers he wants to work with. Sumner wants to know where the coffee is farmed and wants to know what kind of farm practices they use. He wants to know how they pick their coffee beans and how they roast it. Do their practices align with his values?
As a result, Sumner buys coffee from all over the world, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Colombia, Kenya, Guatemala, Brazil, Rwanda, and, of course, Hawaii.
I’ve tried many different cups of coffee and, while I am no expert, there is something about the coffee at the Curb. It’s one of my favorite places to get a cup of coffee in Hawaii and the only place where I have “my drink.”
I asked Sumner what sets him apart from other coffee shops, and he gave me a few reasons.
First, all of the coffee that you can purchase has been roasted within twelve days. Sumner buys some of their coffee roasted, and they have just started roasting some coffee themselves on Tuesdays. Either way, you’ll always be getting an extremely fresh cup of coffee.
It’s hard to make a good cup of coffee, Sumner says. So, he is constantly experimenting, tweaking his recipes, and trying to do better. He explained that the grind and water quality is just as important as the tools they use to measure weight, temperature, and time, so all of these factors come into play to create that perfect cup of coffee.
But Sumner also knows the importance of consistency. I always order the same thing, and it always tastes the same, no matter who makes it. When you have a favorite drink at a coffee shop, you want it to taste the same, no matter who makes it.
Sumner takes his environmental impact as a business owner seriously. He is always looking for ways to be more environmentally conscious. For example, after Sumner started finding straw wrappers on the floor outside the coffee shop, he started only offering straws without wrappers. A single-serve machine enables you to take your own straw, sans-wrapper.
In addition, you will get .60 cents off your coffee if you drink your coffee at The Curb or bring your own reusable cup. That’s a huge savings, both for your wallet and the environment – especially if you are someone like me who frequents them often.
Sumner is currently creating a 5th location on Oahu.
In between the beach and the sights, make sure to stop by one of The Curb’s locations for a great cup of coffee that supports a local business.
Posted by: Bruce Fisher