Support the little guy.

For every Apple, Facebook, Google, Starbucks, Toyota, Wells Fargo or Goldman Sachs, there are countless small businesses offering incredible products and services all across America. We all know the corporate giants, with the media, pundits and blogosphere falling all over themselves fawning, criticizing and analyzing the giant companies leading their respective fields. Hot new names, especially if it’s a sexy new technology, social media site or fashion trend garner all the attention. Like paparazzi chasing after Kim Kardashian, the allure of what’s big or what’s hot is irresistible. 

I prefer not chasing the big and the beautiful, but discovering instead nuggets of gold that are hidden in plain sight. I’m talking about amazing little businesses with great ambition and big ideas hidden behind small town storefronts, overlooked websites and farmers’ markets. On my recent journey to the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, I was deeply impressed with the creativity, quality and service of many local small businesses. They typify the dynamic enterprise and hard work of countless small companies across the United States. 

Kaua’i is an interesting example. With a population of only 67,000 people on an island where the largest town is but 6,400, Kaua’i is a place where practically everyone is an entrepreneur. It’s not unusual to learn that practically everyone has at least two jobs, and a surprising number of people operate small businesses, either as their principal livelihood or a side venture that many hope will become something much bigger. It’s not just survival - entrepreneurship is a way of life on a heavenly island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

Lori Cardenas is co-owner of Aunty Lilikoi Passion Fruit Products in the Kaua'i town of Waimea. Their line of passion fruit jellies, fruit butters, passion wasabi mustards and body care products are exceptional, all made with an ohana (family) spirit that typifies the small businesses of Kaua'i. 

Lori Cardenas is co-owner of Aunty Lilikoi Passion Fruit Products in the Kaua'i town of Waimea. Their line of passion fruit jellies, fruit butters, passion wasabi mustards and body care products are exceptional, all made with an ohana (family) spirit that typifies the small businesses of Kaua'i. 

A stroll through the Art Walk event in the east shore Kaua’i town of Kapa’a is a good example. On Saturday evenings every month, local artists, business owners, photographers, musicians, dancers, fire-twirlers, jewelry makers, sculptors, food trucks and more convene for a celebration of fun, food, art, music, and entrepreneurship. Local stores stay open late to show the world what makes them special. Tiki wood carvers, photographers, artists, designers, painters, makers of local foods, pet supplies and fashion creators show the world their products. Their skills and wares are remarkable. 

A typical farmer's market on Kaua'i, near the town of Kilauea. It's always a festive occasion, where locals and visitors gather to shop for outstanding fresh fruit and vegetables, and some of the island's wonderful home made products. 

A typical farmer's market on Kaua'i, near the town of Kilauea. It's always a festive occasion, where locals and visitors gather to shop for outstanding fresh fruit and vegetables, and some of the island's wonderful home made products. 

Every day, somewhere on the island is a local farmers’ market. It’s the chance to try out many of the island’s greatest gifts: the incredible fruits, vegetables, baked goods, fresh sea food, fresh flowers, as well as island culinary delights from shave ice to vegan, gluten- and GMO-free cookies, jams or amazing energy bars like those from the Heart Flame Bakery. They’re exceptional.

While Kaua’i is thankful to have a Walmart and a Costco on the island, I was excited to discover outstanding local businesses like the Healthy Hut Market and Cafe in the town of Kilauea, a health food grocery store with a cafe and juice bar offering GMO-free organic produce as well as farm-fresh products. A surprising number of island restaurants are farm-to-table, offering the best fresh organic produce and seafood in a culinary paradise.

Anahola Granola is a local favorite. Healthy and nutritious, its unique flavors include mango, ginger and other wonderful local ingredients.

Anahola Granola is a local favorite. Healthy and nutritious, its unique flavors include mango, ginger and other wonderful local ingredients.

Doing business with Kaua'i from the Mainland.

The island’s location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is far from the great cities of the world. But Kaua’i’s unique local businesses are as close as your Web browser and FedEx. In fact, some of the earliest e-commerce I encountered in the early days of the Web was from vendors on the island, and since, I’ve frequently had fresh papaya, coconut, mango and tropical flowers shipped to my door.

While planning our recent trip to the Kaua'i, our website research led us to ActivityKauai.com, a fantastic resource for arranging what to do and where to go on the island. Operated by experienced guide and entrepreneur Aaron Martin, his online company is the go-to for people planning a visit to Kaua’i, and who want to book anything from kayaking adventures, boat trips along the Napali Coast, dinner reservations, lodging, to ordering many of the best products produced on the island and more. 

Aaron Martin, owner of ActivityKauai.com often leads kayaking and other adventure tours to amazing locations on Kauai's interior. Here, he briefs a group of visitors who kayaked the Wailua River and hiked through rainforest to Wailua Falls about the island's ancestral past and the spectacular songbirds living beneath the dense tree canopy.

Aaron Martin, owner of ActivityKauai.com often leads kayaking and other adventure tours to amazing locations on Kauai's interior. Here, he briefs a group of visitors who kayaked the Wailua River and hiked through rainforest to Wailua Falls about the island's ancestral past and the spectacular songbirds living beneath the dense tree canopy.

Instead of staying in a big-name hotel, for less money and greater luxury, we opted to rent a breathtaking villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean from The Parrish Collection Kaua'i. The  properties they manage are absolutely top-quality, and their informative, beautiful website typifies the level of cheerful personal service you can expect from this outstanding company. The exotic ocean breezes of Kaua’i might seem halfway around the world, but in reality, it’s but a few clicks from engaging with many local businesses. 

At a local farmers market on Kaua'i, we discovered the Heart Flame Bakery, one of the best bakeries on the island. They offer an array of delicious organic, vegan (as well as gluten-free) baked goods, all with the sincere welcome we encountered from countless small businesses we visited.

At a local farmers market on Kaua'i, we discovered the Heart Flame Bakery, one of the best bakeries on the island. They offer an array of delicious organic, vegan (as well as gluten-free) baked goods, all with the sincere welcome we encountered from countless small businesses we visited.

In our upcoming book, The Healthy Trekking Guide to Kaua'i, we'll feature many of the island's wonderful small businesses and how you can shop their products and services. The people of Kaua'i have a deep commitment to healthy living, and you see it in their amazing natural GMO-free food products, farm-to-table restaurants, adventure guide services offering visitors a variety of activities from kayaking to diving, surfing, hikes into the interior of the island and more. The businesses described here are but a few of the many we'll share with you in our book.

On Kaua'i and across the country, small businesses apply innovation, creativity and hard work to offer outstanding and products, services and solutions. Support them. Discover them. You'll be amazed at what you find. 

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