When Peter and Karina Hernandez visited Hawaii in 2013, they not only fell in love with the island culture, they also developed a passion for a decidedly Hawaiian treat called shave ice. The average mainlander who has never tasted Hawaiian shave ice might think, ‘oh, it’s just a snow cone.’ Not so, according to Peter Hernandez, who says it’s much more.
So much so that he and his wife started their own company, Ohana Shave Ice, two years ago and began selling the cold, sweet concoction during the annual Hollister Farmers’ Market. The treat became so popular among locals that the company first expanded into catering birthday parties and quickly grew to handling corporate events. The business has been so successful that they’re booked all the way to this coming October. So, opening a storefront in downtown seemed the next logical step. The store will help support the catering business while at the same time offering the product year-round in downtown.
It may have been the next step, but it wasn’t an intuitive one. Peter said they didn’t know what they didn’t know about opening a store. They’ve already secured a building at 738 San Benito St. and are busily renovating it. The hope is to have it opened in time for motorcycle rally in July. If the store itself is not ready, they plan to pitch a tent inside the building so they can sell the shave ice to the thousands who are expected to turn out for the three days.
At the moment, they’re dealing with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues. The Hollister Downtown Association gave them a heads-up about local businesses being sued for not being compliant with ADA regulations and hired Ernie Castro, with ADA Access Consultants from Fresno, who looked over their plans for the store to ensure there would be no issues after opening.
Peter said the business model is perfect for what they want to do.
“It’s low overhead and it’s a treat that most Californians haven’t experienced unless they’ve been to Hawaii,” he said. “It just makes sense, from the beauty and culture of Hawaii. That’s why our model is bringing the flavors of the islands to the mainland.”
He said they have built the business from the ground up, from Karina using an Excel program to design the store interior to Peter hand-drawing the company Ohana logo, which he is trying to trademark. He said the business model is grounded in faith rather than marketing research.
“For the most part it’s faith and I just trusted this is going to be a blessing for our community that made sense for us,” he said.
For those who don’t know what Hawaiian shave ice is, Peter explained that it is extremely thin, soft ice sitting atop a layer of gourmet macadamia or vanilla bean ice cream and topped off by “snow cap” of sweetened caramel or coconut condensed milk. Ohana will offer more than 30 exotic flavors.
“We could buy the flavors on the mainland, but we know what’s really consistent with Hawaiian shave ice is they use a different base, which makes it a lot more pungent,” he said, “so, we looked up a supplier from Hawaii and we started ordering in small batches. From there, we morphed into different combinations. It’s a different type of dessert than you’re used to.”
He described the process of working with the city as a “little clunky,” but said the health department has been amazing.
“You can tell they want to help you,” he said. “They know their stuff. We don’t. When we walked in, we didn’t even know what questions to ask let alone the process to get a store open. They have been proactive in engaging me. It’s been awesome and that’s what I love about Hollister.”
Karina said they have received a conditional approval from the Environmental Health Department. She told BenitoLink on June 12 that they would be submitting the final plans for approval. She also said they plan for a soft opening with family, friends and loyal Farmers’ Market customers around mid-July, with the grand opening at the end of July. She said when the doors open customers will discover a “Hawaiian vintage vibe” with surfboards serving as bar tops.
“It will be laid back,” she said. “We want to attract all ages and we’re hoping to partner with the local restaurants around us so we can complement each other’s businesses and hopefully attract more foot traffic downtown. We’re also near to the high school so they can walk over after school and grab something and hang out here if they want to. It’s about building relationships within our community.”
Peter said it is their intention to help downtown thrive.
“We really do believe in helping each other,” he said. “We take ‘love your neighbor’ very seriously.”
Over the last two years that they have been building their shave ice business, each has continued working at their full-time jobs. Karina has worked at Pacific Diversified Insurance for 11 years as a claims consultant, while Peter has his own business, Central Coast Green Clean, that cleans solar panels and windows. Peter said they want the business to focus on families, which is evident even in the name: Ohana, which is Hawaiian for “family.”
“Every single aspect of our logo has to do with what matters to us,” Karina said. “You see five sets of flip-flops that represents each member of our family and an open bible in the middle because God is central to us.”
In promoting Ohana Shave Ice, they already have a Facebook page, along with their own app that includes a rewards card, and are depending heavily on word-of-mouth advertising from their many satisfied customers.