Rub Me Dirty: Smart-mouthed start-up company will give back to Kona coffee farmers

  • Steven Yamamoto, left, and Keolalani Okaare starting a new company, Rub Me Dirty. (Emily Gleason / Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Meat rubs with a little great taste and a bit of humor. (Emily Gleason / Special to West Hawaii Today)

Steven Yamamoto and Keolalani Oka come from coffee. Friends since kindergarten, they both grew up on small family coffee farms in Kona and can trace their heritage back to relatives who migrated from Japan in the late 1800s to work on Kona’s early coffee plantations.

After returning from college, Steven and Keola discovered the CBB, or coffee berry borer, destroying Kona Coffee crops and costing farmers a fortune. Their new business venture — Rub Me Dirty — is a line of 100% Kona Coffee meat rubs that aims to help small farms battle the CBB. Rub Me Dirty is set to launch on Sept. 1.

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Native to central Africa, the CBB really sucks. It attacks the coffee berry or bean by burrowing and laying eggs inside. The CBB is particularly destructive because there’s no easy way to tell if a crop is affected until after harvest and initial processing, right before roasting. Coffee is extremely labor-intensive and must be harvested by hand. Farmers were losing up to 30-40% of their coffee crop, and then having to eat all the costs for their production, harvesting, and processing. The result was pounds of coffee laying around on farms, that could not be labeled and sold as Kona Coffee.

“If you know farmers, you know that we don’t like to waste anything,” says Steven.

Like so many great things, the first rub happened by accident in 2010.

The two friends who love to entertain and BBQ decided to combine some of the unsellable coffee with spices to create a tenderizing and flavorful meat rub. Their first rub, made with 11 different spices, was developed for pork and was playfully dubbed, “Rub My Heiny” as a joke between friends. Next came “Rub My Meat” for beef, and “Rub My Breasts” for chicken.

As they perfected the recipes, friends began asking to take some home, and soon they couldn’t keep up with demand. Nine years later and no longer using CBB damaged coffee, they decided to turn their accident into opportunity, to do something they’re passionate about, and help Kona Coffee farmers protect their livelihoods.

Pest control for the CBB is costly. The treatment — a fungus spray that requires year-round application — costs the same regardless of the number of trees per acre. While the Department of Agriculture subsidizes 50% of the cost, small family farms, like the ones Steven and Keola grew up on, struggle with the extra expense in comparison to larger commercial coffee farms.

“Our motto is buy a rub, save a shrub,” says Keola of their giveback business model.

The sale of each rub covers the cost of treating one coffee tree for one month. They are currently looking to connect with Kona Coffee farms 10 acres or less to provide financial support beyond the Department of Agriculture subsidy. Farms must be located in the Kona Coffee Belt. Interested farmers should email cbb@rubmedirty.com.

Their website www.rubmedirty.com will be live on Sept. 1, with free shipping to all 50 states. Those interested can visit the site and sign up with their email for early bird notification when sales open. Readers can use the discount code SMARTMOUTH by Sept. 30 for $5 off any purchase. Their three signature rubs: Rub My Heiny – 100% Kona Coffee Pork Rub, Rub My Meat – 100% Kona Coffee Beef Rub, and Rub My Breasts – 100% Kona Coffee Chicken Rub will be sold individually and in packs. Two sizes will be available, a 2 oz sample size sold in a pack of three, and a medium 5 oz size. Price range is $7-$12. Interested wholesalers looking to carry Rub Me Dirty product should email wholesale@rubmedirty.com.

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In the meantime, you can find Rub Me Dirty competing at the Battle of the BBQ at the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival on Aug. 17. They will be at the Taste of the Hawaiian Range Agricultural Festival on Sept. 7 with rubs available for purchase. Follow Rub Me Dirty on Instagram @therubclub and on Facebook and Twitter @rubmedirty.

Emily Gleason is business writer who can be found at https://mthewriter.com/ She contributes a monthly business feature, Imua in Business, to West Hawaii Today.

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