When Bula owner Judd Rench first opened his kava bar in Southeast Portland in 2011, he wanted to share his passion for kava with his hometown community in the Pacific Northwest. Now, nearly 11 years later, Judd’s kava journey continues with the expansion of a second Bula Kava House location in downtown Vancouver, WA.
Judd’s Kava Discovery
During his late teens and early 20s, Judd traveled extensively, living in both Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Yet, it was when working in Hawaii as a scuba diving instructor that he first discovered kava.
As one of the only places in the U.S. with a tradition of drinking kava, Hawai’i features a number of kava bars. Instead of grabbing a drink after work, Judd’s dive shop coworkers in Kona would hit the local kava to relax. After trying kava for the first time, Judd quickly became a regular.
In an interview with The Columbian, Judd recounted his first experience with drinking kava:
“It tasted like dirt at first, but made me feel really good.”
Growing up in Southeast Portland, Judd had developed a belief that his native community would also respond very positively to drinking kava.
“I felt like people in Portland would like this,” Judd told The Columbian. “Then, we were always talking about how good a kava bar would do in Portland. It was a fun, random talk and we didn’t think anything would come out of it.”
After moving back to Portland and receiving his business degree from George Fox University, Judd finally made his kava bar dreams a reality.
Bringing Kava to the Pacific Northwest
When opening a traditional bar, you don’t need to explain alcohol or its effect on the body to customers. Opening a kava bar, however, requires a little more explanation. Over time, Judd eventually perfected a short spiel that helped patrons better understand why they should be willing to drink what looks like a coconut shell full of muddy water. Fortunately, once most people take the plunge, they quickly become kava enthusiasts for life.
The SE location grew to become a fixture of the ever-expanding Division neighborhood. The increase in foot traffic and people living off of Division created an opportunity for even more people to discover the wonders of drinking kava. Soon, Bula Kava House became so popular that Judd had to expand his kava connections, traveling to new growing regions in Tonga and the Solomon Islands to find enough kava to satisfy his customers.
“With some people, physiologically, kava clicks with them,” said Marco McLean, a Bula Kava House regular, to The Columbian.
People looking for an alternative to alcohol love that kava offers such euphoric effects without the nausea and mental impairment that comes from drinking too much alcohol.
Now a neighborhood fixture, regulars stop by Bula daily for a coconut shell of kava to help them better focus on work or as a means of relaxing after a stressful day.
Bula Kava House Coming Soon to Downtown Vancouver, WA
Having fulfilled his dream of opening a kava bar in his hometown, Judd isn’t ready to rest on his laurels.
After signing a new lease in late November, 2021, Judd plans on bringing the joys of kava to a brand-new neighborhood.
“Vancouver is a cool place. I like the vibe.”
Judd had hoped to open his new bar on March 22, the 11th year anniversary of opening the original Bula Kava House. Unfortunately, supply chain issues and unforeseen delays have pushed the grand opening back to mid-Spring.
For fans of the Portland kava bar, we hope to see you visit our new downtown Vancouver location in the near future. Drinking kava is all about building new relationships and strengthening old bonds within the community. Judd remains confident that his new kava bar will enjoy just as robust a community of kava enthusiasts and we invite all of our current customers along for the ride.