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About Nakava - Kava Bar Info
Written by Jeffrey A. Bowman   
Monday, 01 August 2005

WHAT IS A KAVA BAR?

If you have never been to a kava bar before you are probably wondering what a kava bar is exactly. Right? Well you came to the right place then. A kava bar can also be called a kava lounge but more from the aspect of a verb and not a noun from the traditional definition of lounge because kava bars do not serve cocktails. However, customers that visit a kava bar tend to lounge around after drinking kava due to the relaxing effects that are imparted by it. The term kava lounge can add a new definition to the word lounge in the dictionary for sure.We will create a whole new page to discuss the kava lounge topic but for now we came here to learn about what a kava bar is exactly.

We will give a short lesson on the existance and history of kava bars. It will only be short because the kava bar industry has not existed for very long compared to some other business models.

Kava Bar Origination

The concept of a kava bar surely originated in Vanuatu.Pacific island kava drinkers historically emphasize the value of kava by consuming it at special times or in special places. These special places are "marked socially as non-ordinary spaces. The desire to ritualize kava consumption by drinking in special places is evidenced by the popularity of kava bars in such towns as Port Vila or Kolonia. The kava bar partly reconstitutes within an urban environment the more traditional extraordinary places where people meet to consume the drug". (Lebot, 1997)


These traditional places that Dr. Lebot speaks of are A famous kava bar (nakamal) in Vanuatu named Bihini Nakamal.assumably the nakamals that populate Vanuatu. A nakamal by definition is a traditional place where kava is consumed. A real nakamal is a very quiet and dark place where the men go to drink kava and socialize. Nakamals are usually spiritual in nature. A kava bar is a business that sells kava and promotes a social gathering place.In Vanuatu the term nakamal is used interchangibly for kava bars or for traditional men's house. A a real nakamal can be anything from the area underneath a banyan tree to a building with a tin roof.Most nakamals are very primtative in true island spirit and resemble a hut made out of bamboo and palm fronds.

A kava bar is usually more upscale than a true nakamal with lighting, music and a solid structure. All kava bars in Vanuatu and Noumea hang a red light outside to signify that the kava is being sold. When the kava runs out at the end of the night the red light is shut off to let customers know the kava is gone and that they should move on to the next open kava bar.

Kava Bar Evolution

For certain kava bars do not exist everywhere but they exist in Vanuatu. They also reportedly exist in Pohnpei where kava is called sakau and a kava bar is appropriately called a sakau house. Vanuatu gained its independance in 1980. Around that time many natives were displaced to the neighboring island nation of New Caledonia due to political indifferences/civil war. Everyone knows that kava and nakamals have existed in Vanuatu for a very long time. Thousands of years in the case of kava drinking itself. In New Caledonia kava was not used or grown historically. The displaced natives from Vanuatu missed their kava drinking after living in New Caledonia. It was very difficult to try and import green kava root from Vanuatu to make the kava juice they longed to drink. Some ingenious, entrepreneurial person got the idea to try and dry the kava root and grind it into powder. It was much easier and cheaper to ship dried, processed kava root than the wet root but no one knew if the properties of the kava would remain throughout the drying stage to make kava juice that was worth drinking.

They tried and obviously found that the kava root was potent even when dried. The beverage tasted a little bit worse using dried kava but it was better than no kava at all. Slowly the displaced Vanuatu natives heard about the kava and began to congregate in alleyways and backyards to drink kava together just like they used to do in Vanuatu. Gradually the people from New Caledonia noticed the natives drinking this strange drink out of plastic pails and wanted to know what they were doing. Before too long the white people were drinking kava along with the natives.

Once again some entrepreneurial person got the idea to open the first nakamal (kava bar) in New Caledonia. This is interesting because New Caledonia is a first world nation or a Westernized nation if you will. They have almost all of the same things we have here in the USA as far as infrastructue goes. So New Caledonia became the first westernized country in the world to have a kava bar industry. This industry has grown amazingly fast. As of August 2005 over 200 kava bars exist in Noumea, New Caledonia where roughly 100,000 people live. It was in Noumea that idea for the first kava bar in America was born. The OLIVIER brothers had watched the kava industry grow and and dreamed of naking the same thing happen in the United States which is the largest market in the world for anything, including kava.They did not really know anyone?in the US and spoke French. That was a big hurdle to overcome. Laurent was able to secure a visa working for an American company and moved his family to America. It did not take Laurent, who is a serial entrepreneur, long to try to start a business in the US. He decided to try the kava bar idea because he wanted to build something, new and unique and did not want to merely sell widgets.

The Kava Bar Planning

It was at this job that Laurent met Jeffrey Bowman.Laurent introduced Jeffrey to the kava and told him of his plan to try and build the first kava bar in North America. After successfully giving out the kava to friends, neighbors and college students Jeffrey agreed to research the feasibility of running a profitable kava bar enterprise in the U.S. Laurent and Jeffrey both came from an engineering background so they had to learn a little bit about business before they started. Luckily Laurent had already started and sold several companies in his lifetime and he had a little bit of practical experience. Jeffrey decided to go back to school to obtain a Masters Degree in Business Administration (M.B.A).The planning for the kava bar venture had begun.

The Kava Bar Financing

Jeffrey and Laurent also had one more problem, they did not have quite enough capital to start the first kava bar on their own so they started to look for investors & partners. They presented the kava bar concept to many successful business people and could not seem to find any takers. They finally convinced Diane Lysogorski to invest the remaining funds neccesary to launch the venture despite not being able to find one person that told them the idea would work.

The Kava Bar Construction

On December 1st 2001 Jeffrey Bowman graduated with his MBA?and a lease was signed. After searching for over 1 year for a location the team was able to secure their first commercial lease and start construction of North Americas first kava bar. Hundreds of kilograms of kava had already been stockpiled from Vanuatu so supply of fresh kava root was not a problem upon opening. The team worked night and day for 45 days straight preparing for the first onslaught of customers coming to try the new,mysterious kava elixir from the kava bar. After countless hours of thinking,calculating,measuring, sawing, painting, and dreaming the mission was complete. We were ready to open North America's first nakamal.

North America's First Kava Bar Opens!

On January 16th 2002 the doors opened at 4 p.m. Louis Bonaceto was the first customer that day to pay us for kava. We still have his first dollar on the wall of our kava bar to prove it. Stop by sometime and we will show it to you if you?don't believe this is a true story. Drink kava and lounge around in our kava lounge.

 


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