CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Malanie McLellan, foster daughter of late entrepreneur Karen Ertell, examined company papers last week at the Kakaako warehouse of Koko Crater Coffee Roasters as employee Kamaka Hoopai looked on. McLellan, with support from many in Honolulu's community of independent coffeehouses, is trying to keep the company going in the wake of Ertell's murder last month. CLICK FOR LARGE
The 'Queen of Caffeine'
Karen Ertell, who owned Koko Crater Coffee Roasters, is remembered by loyal customers
On her business card, Karen E. Ertell, humorously listed her title as "Queen of Caffeine" for Koko Crater Coffee Roasters, the company she owned.
The independent coffee community remains shaken up by the murder of Ertell, a woman described as friendly, outgoing and kind-hearted.
Police found Ertell, 51, dead in her Ewa Beach home in late May. Prosecutors want to try the 15-year-old male suspect, who turned out to be a neighbor's son, as an adult instead of a juvenile at Family Court because they believe the murder was well-planned and executed. A hearing is scheduled late next month.
But a circle of family and friends, as well as a large customer base that may not have known Ertell by name, want to celebrate the person that she was and keep her name in the spotlight.
She was a surfer, paddler, people-person, animal lover and an avid learner, with a passion for coffee. She held a degree in anthropology, but had many interests in life, including volunteer work for a children's cancer camp at Mokuleia.
Ertell also had two dogs, P.D. and Lily, as well as a cat named Snickers that she rescued from the street. She also had a grown foster daughter, Malanie McLellan, who is trying to keep the coffee company going.
"She was a kindred soul," said older sister Robyn Dunlap. "She was my hero for being so brave, to come here and completely start over, not knowing anyone and making her way."
At farmer's market at Kapiolani Community College on a recent Saturday morning, hundreds of customers stopped to sign a memorial set up for Ertell.
Many knew her face and bought her coffee, but did not necessarily make the connection to the Ewa Beach murder. Many asked where she was.
"It was a real shocker," said Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga, manager of the market, who described the vendors there as family. "It's just like any family member. There are still a lot of vendors in the market that can't believe she's gone."
The Koko Crater Coffee stand was usually the first stop for shoppers before they wandered on to other vendors to buy fruits, vegetables and flowers.
"They loved her because she always had a smile for them," said her brother, Keith Ertell.
The roasting business, which Ertell bought in 2002 as a sole proprietorship, had grown under her management.
She supplied coffee to pretty much every independent cafe on Oahu, from Mocha Java Cafe in Kakaako to Coffee Talk in Kaimuki and Morning Brew in Kailua.
Foster daughter McLellan says she and her husband will try to keep the coffee roasting business going. So far, the family is meeting with accountants and sorting out the paperwork. But McLellan is also expecting a baby, due next week.
Nakama-Mitsunaga said the market has promised to keep a spot open for Koko Crater Coffee Roasters.
COURTESY ROBYN DUNLAP
Karen Ertell watched over her equipment at Koko Crater Coffee Roasters warehouse at in Kakaako in this undated photo. Ertell's foster daughter, friends and others in Honolulu's coffeehouse community are trying to keep the company going in the wake of her murder last month. CLICK FOR LARGE
Luzia Maia-Jube, owner of Mocha Java, says she is still in shock over the news.
She said had just spoken with Ertell the day before the news came out about her death. She knew something was amiss when her delivery did not arrive over the weekend, and Ertell did not answer her calls. It wasn't like her not to return calls, she said.
Maia-Jube said her Mocha Java blend is custom-roasted by Koko Crater Coffee Roasters.
"We wanted to buy from a source where we know it's going to be fresh and not produced in mass quantity," said Maia-Jube.
So far, she's not sure what will happen.
"She's not coming back," said Maia-Jube in disbelief. "Someone needs to be punished, to set parameters for what you can and cannot do. She's not coming back."
Liz Schwarz, owner of Coffee Talk, had surfed regularly with Ertell.
"She was so supportive of all the businesses," said Schwarz. "She was just as supportive of us as we were of her. She had a huge following."
Schwarz said Ertell gave the business a personal touch.
"She will totally be missed," said Schwarz. "I'm glad the family is resuming the business ... Everyone knows that Karen would have wanted it to go on. She was such an amazing person."
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Karen Ertell grew up all over the globe, since her father was in the military -- from Washington, D.C., to Italy and Germany.
She was living in Portland, Ore., when she decided one day more than 15 years ago to move to Hawaii to try out a new life.
At first, she worked for Wyland Galleries and then for Kimo Bean Coffee Co., and then she had the opportunity to run her own business.
Brother Keith Ertell described his sister as someone who had a gift for understanding people, as well as for learning new skills.
The coffee business is one example -- she learned everything she could about it and mastered the art of roasting, even how to fix espresso machines.
"We're not particularly hateful or angry, but we do feel justice needs to be served," he said. "I want to see him (the suspect) tried as an adult for the sake of the folks in Hawaii who have sisters and mothers."
A private ceremony for friends and family was held last Sunday on the North Shore, a place Karen Ertell loved to surf. Her ashes were scattered in the ocean. Ertell is survived by her mother Irene Ertell, brother Keith Ertell, sister Robyn Dunlap, nieces Holly and Kelsy Dunlap, foster daughter Malanie McLellan and boyfriend Kevin Callahan.