You’re in Hawaii, it’s hot and sunny, and a popsicle is calling. You could run and get something with artificial flavors that may stain your mouth red or blue, or you could head to a local shop and try an Ono Pop – Hawaii’s own spin on the refreshing combination of coldness and sweetness. OnoPops is the brainchild of two brothers, Joe Welch and Josh Lanthier-Welch, who were born and raised in Hawaii Kai.
The inspiration for OnoPops was a popular neighborhood joint selling paletas (think Latin American ice pop, but fruitier and milkier) that Joe and his wife, Jessica, visited while vacationing in North Carolina last summer. As they were walking home licking their paletas, they began dreaming about the potential for a similar product in Hawaii.
As he explained, “We thought they were great, simple, fun, fresh and also intriguing as far as how far you could go with the flavors.”
The paleta craze had yet to find its place in Hawaii. They thought it would only be a matter of time before someone else beat them to the punch, so they committed themselves to being Hawaii paleta ambassadors and immediately starting playing around with different flavors.
The Mexican tradition has it’s own unique combinations such as chocolate and bacon. Yet Joe wanted to put a Hawaii stamp on the product. Conveniently, his older brother, Josh, who Joe refers to as a “total food geek,” had been working at a restaurant in San Francisco that, as a victim of the recession, wasn’t doing too well. In little time with dreams of ice pop success, he decided to move back home after 20 years of living in various continental U.S. cities.
A retired kitchen at the Japanese American Institute for Management Science in Hawaii Kai (JAIMS) is seeing a second life as the center of OnoPops production. Most of the equipment is used and sourced locally from restaurant supply stores, with the exception of their one big splurge: a fancy ice pop maker from Brazil.
Before we move on, let’s talk flavors. The Ume-Thai Basil, one of their water-based flavors, may be based on the Mexican paleta tradition, but it takes this art of frozen confections to a different dimension. The umebushi plum itself hails from Japanese Alps and is without msg or additives. Mixed with locally-sourced, organic thai basil and cane juice, the result is nothing short of transcendent: not really sweet, not too salty either, but salty enough that it is more a palate-tickler than dessert. This is a Popsicle for adults—the sour plum might not go over well with kids. It would go great alongside a beer, but is equally satisfying on its own when it’s mid-afternoon, it’s hot outside, and you still have work to do.
They also make richer, milk-based flavors, such as the Guava Chiffon. This variety is less of a departure from more traditional frozen fruit bars, but more refined while remaining kid-friendly. Other varieties include Kula Strawberry Maui Goat Cheese and Kona Latte.
Each flavor combination boasts its own cartoon persona designed by Henrik Van Ryzin of BigDTV. The characters, such as Professor Umebushi and Basil Suyi from the Ume-tahi Basil variety, have a story behind them that should appeal to kids while educating them about the value of eating pure, local foods. But adults also enjoy the Otter Pop references.
The dual emphasis on local ingredients and kid-friendly character art is no accident. As Joe puts it, “Our target audience is anyone from the 3-year-old who wants a cold treat to the 55-year-old foodie looking to arouse their palette. The people who will enjoy it the most are the ones who really believe in the locavore movement and supporting our local farmers.”
The flavors will appeal to everyone in Hawaii and beyond because, like Hawaii regional cuisine, they pull influences from the distinct types of people who have made Hawaii what it is today, Joe explained.
Whenever possible, the ingredients are made from the best examples of a product that the islands have to offer. If something is not produced locally, such as condensed milk, then they strive for organic. Ideally, it is both.
Currently, OnoPops can be found for $3 each at Mahiku Farmers Market on Saturdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Koko Head Elementary; the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation Honolulu Farmer’s Market from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Wednesdays at Blaisdell Concert Hall lawn. You can now find them at local supermarket Foodland island wide, Whole Foods in Kahala, Celestial’s Natural Foods in Haleiwa, Muumuu Heaven, Honolulu Burger Company, HI Town Cafe, Food Pantry Kuhio, and the Kokua Market.
For more information, visit www.onopops.com.