Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Aoki’s Shave Ice

Restaurant Insider

January 22, 2023

Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO

Anne Lee (center) poses with Aoki’s Shave Ice owner Cathy Aoki and her dad, Michael.

Shave ice, not “shaved ice,” has been a must-have treat here in Hawaii going back to the early 1900s. Japanese plantation workers would use the shavings from large blocks of ice and top it off with fruit juice and sugar.

The Aoki ohana was the first to offer this iconic treat and has done so for more than 40 years. Known for pillowy-soft shave ice and homemade flavors created by Grandma Aoki, this iconic Haleiwa location may have moved across the street, but the shave ice is the same — maybe even better.

Ube Shake with mochi ($6.50, add 75 cents for mochi/toppings)

Fourth-generation owner Cathy Aoki showed me how to make shave ice and told me about some of the new creations that you can only get at Aoki’s.

AL: How did you get into the shave ice business?

CA: My great-grandparents on my grandmother Sumie’s side (the Shimoda family) originally started making shave ice in the 1930s at the old Haleiwa theater. My grandmother got married and decades later, she and my father Michael opened Aoki’s Shave Ice on Kamehameha Day, June 11, 1981. As my father tells me, Matsumoto’s would close at lunch, and people still wanted their shave ice. That’s why they decided to start making shave ice again.

Mango Sorbet Bowl ($6.75)

When they opened this store, I was only 6 but had an affinity for business. I majored in business and wanted to take on the family legacy. Our original location across the street had a small retail store.When we had to close that location, we opened Aoki’s North Shore Trading Company across the street and expanded our retail store offerings while completing the build-out of Aoki’s Shave Ice.

We created ice cakes in the meantime. These have grandma’s original homemade shave ice flavors blended with our ice cream — it’s like the bottom of your shave ice.

“Volcano” shown with mochi ($5.75, large)

We have families bring coolers to bring ice cakes back home and have it stocked in their freezers. Plus, they’re easy to eat in the car on the way home.

AL: What are the most popular flavors and items?

CA: Our older clientele really like strawberry — no bells and whistles. The tourists like rainbow. We made a rainbow shave ice with our classic strawberry, lemon and pineapple flavors, and the “Volcano” in honor of Kilauea’s eruption (lilikoi and banana, topped with strawberry).

Assorted Ice Cakes ($2.50, small; $4.50, large)

Small is $4 and large is $5. Add-ins are vanilla ice cream ($1), sweet azuki beans ($1), vanilla ice cream and azuki bean combo ($1.50), specialty ice cream or sorbet ($2; $2.50 with beans). Toppings (75 cents each) are cream splash, mochi balls, rainbow jellies, li hing gummies, toasted coconut, chocolate drizzle, almond flakes or granola.

The Shave Ice Shake is vanilla ice cream and your choice of Aoki’s shave ice flavors, and then it’s blended. Popular flavors are honeydew and ube ($6 each; add specialty ice cream for $2 or beans for $1).

Hawaiian Delight ($6, large with ice cream)

With the Mango Sorbet Bowl ($6.75), you can choose from mango or pineapple sorbet from Tropical Dream Ice Cream Co. from the Big Island. It’s topped with granola, almonds and toasted coconut.

The bestselling Ice Cake ($2.50, small; $4.50, large) flavors are rainbow and volcano.

AL: What types of things can you find in Aoki’s North Shore Trading Company?

CA: We have a lot of our signature Aoki’s merchandise like classic T-shirts. We just brought back the surfer design that was created 42 years ago, and the volcano design was made by my grandparents when Mauna Loa erupted 39 years ago. We brought that design back not knowing it would erupt again. We have gifts made by local artists, jewelry, food items, tea from Maui, locally made honey, our ice cakes and lots of great gifts to remind you of Hawaii to bring home.

AL: What do you love most about Aoki’s Shave Ice?

CA: We see so many generations come and go. I have seen little kids grow up and bring their families here; kids from college on summer break come to visit; vacationing military families that come back and have their shave ice. So many locals support us. We even have lots of famous people that visit us, like Adam Sandler.

There is a little Hawaii ice hockey team competing on the mainland, and they wanted to be named Aoki Shave Ice. The parents of these kids, and even their parents, have been coming to Aoki’s Shave Ice for years. We just found out that on Jan. 16, they became the silver champions. All of their jerseys have our name on it; we couldn’t be more proud.

We are extremely grateful for the multigenerations of families that come and see us. Shave ice always makes people happy, and this location provides a bigger area for everyone to hang out.

I often wonder if we should keep up with trends as there are so many options for people to choose from, but when I see the generations coming back year after year, I know that we are doing something right.

66 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712

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