Surf + Music with Jonathan Rotmensch
From the origins of his chic-meets-Hawaiian-charm coffeeshop and the importance of ambience to the power of Hawaiian nonprofit AccessSurf, Jonathan Rotmensch took time out from brewing and creating cool stuff to tell us about how he got his start—and a few of his favorite things.
(OR) Your Hawaiian Aroma Caffe is one of the most Instagrammed, with international recognition. What was your impetus for starting the cafe on Oahu? And what do you think makes it so snap-worthy?
(JR) My wife and I always wanted to have our own coffee shop. We knew we had what it takes to break the mold of ordinary coffee shops and create a new niche, a new genre of coffee shops. A coffee shop that stays true to the Hawaiian hospitality and charm while still be contemporary and chic with a mouthwatering menu.
(OR) You and your wife, Mor (co-founder of Hawaiian Aroma Cafe with you!), both grew up in the Middle East and Europe. What brought you to Hawaii and led you to put down roots here?
(JR) Originally, I was a fashion designer in pursuit of growing my brand. Mor (my Wife) believed in me and my dream and agreed to leave everything behind and start our journey together in Hawaii. Very fast we realized that the cost of living in Honolulu isn't sustainable with dreams. Immediately we shifted gears ,changed direction and dedicated our next 4 years to retail and marketing. When we saw the opportunity to fulfill our dream and bring our vision to fruition, we grabbed it. We closed 11 of our retail stores and dedicated our attention to our new baby. The month we opened our first location at the Ala Moana Center our first daughter was born. At moment we knew we will never leave again...
(OR) Tell us about your work with AccesSurf Hawaii -- what are some of your most rewarding experiences?
(JR) Working with AccesSurf is been a blessing. It changed my approach to almost everything I do today. I remember at the first event we worked together I was fortunate to witness the power of AccesSurf. A kid with a cognitive disability that wasn't willing to smile, talk and certainly no physical contact. After getting out of the water the kid couldn't get his smile off while "high fiving" everyone on the beach. Right there it was clear to me that I want to continue to create live changing event as much as I can. I think everyone needs to be involved in the community in some shape or form.
(OR) Your cafes have a chill, surfer-ish vibe. Are you a surfer yourself, or just embody the laid-back surf vibes?
(JR) I mainly embody the laid-back surf vibe but I do get out there at least once a week and ride my longboard in Waikiki.
(OR) With two of your cafes at Outrigger resorts and being one of the Beachcomber Originals, you’ve had a long-standing connection with Outrigger. What are some of your favorite moments there?
My long-standing connection with Outrigger began 4.5 years ago when Barbara Campbell looked me in the eyes and thru my soul and agreed to give Hawaiian Aroma Caffe a chance to open a shop at the Waikiki Beachcomber and then at the OHANA Waikiki East. That moment with Barbara was my favorite moment as it elevated our dedication to excellence and hard work even more.
(OR) From poolside (silent) discos to showcasing local surf art like Tommy Pierucki, Zak Noyle and others, your TOMA events at the Beachcomber featuring all things local music and art have drawn the who’s-who of Hawaii culture. What are some of your favorite art- and music-event moments?
(JR) Every event is extremely important. My team and I are committed to create the best experiences possible and strive to raise the bar every time. That positive pressure makes us become the best version of ourselves. Every event starts with 2 months of research, collaborations, partnerships, sponsorships, planning, promoting, marketing and when all loose ends come together and everyone is smiling and having a good time is when my team and I indulge in the moment.
(OR) Everything you do seems to be a ‘collective of creativity’ (our words :)). What is the connection between your interest in fashion-slash-DJs-slash-surf-community?
(JR) The love for esthetics never faded away. It simply translated in to interior design and marketing. If before I designed deconstructed Button-down Shirts for men in to skirts for women, today I design the ambiance to create the perfect experience.
(OR) Your cafes are unique in their coffee x food x cocktail options. What can travelers expect to find at your cafes today?
(JR) Travelers can expect to find a calm, trendy and yummy spot full of Aloha good vibes. Great food awesome service and the best espresso drinks in Honolulu and all that while looking at the beautiful new Waikiki Beachcomber pool-deck.
(OR) On the Beachcomber front, are there any TOMA events (virtual or IRL) are on the horizon? Anything else you’d like to share with us?
(JR) We plan to continue exactly where we left off and continue put smiles on people's faces. Whether with or without a mask.
Grab your own Insta-worthy snaps at Jonathan's Hawaiian Aroma Caffe or pick up some beans and other Aloha-inspired finds for home-brew deliciousness in between travels.
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