I first came across the cute little cartoon characters at the Rice Fest in Ala Moana Beach Park. I allowed the laid back guy who introduced himself as Josh to choose my flavor for me. Gingatanical, he said as he handed me a dark amber-colored frozen treat. The second the concoction hit my palate, I was in paleta heaven, which for those of you unfamiliar with this place, it is a good place to be …a very good place indeed.
We chatted a bit and he easily agreed to let me come down to the factory and work for a day in the land of Ono Pops. I packed my trusty camera, notebook and black ink pen. When I arrived, Josh introduced me to the staff of the day. Several kids from a local school work at the factory rotating through different after school shifts. I met a senior surfer girl named Kirra who smiled as she explained why everyone makes fun of her. I also met Khauan, a delightful young man who wants to learn to cook and then move on to be a neurophysician.
Josh also introduced me to his right hand man, Wyeth; a quiet guy with a friendly personality and an intermittent but bright smile. They walked me through the kitchen and most likely laughed at me in their heads with all the pictures I started taking.
Working at Ono Pops was amazing! The company was started by two brothers who strive to create something they love (i.e. Mexican Paletas) with a local vibe and conscious (i.e. Hawaiian ingredients and inspiration). Josh is a former chef and his vocabulary jumps around from explaining cowboy coffee to requesting that someone pass him the chinoise. He also is a self-proclaimed Ninja lover; the brand that is. He swears it is just as good as the extremely popular vitamix. All in all though, Josh is a legitimately cool dude. He talks to the kids about education and life, presents them with real business problem scenarios and cracks jokes without being condescending or trying too hard.
The list of flavors is vast, but I was extremely impressed with the dedication to creating everything from scratch, including the ubiquitous li-hing powder (a recipe which he would not share…but then again anyone in the culinary profession has to have at least one secret) that plays a delicious roll combined with homemade preserved lemon peel in the lemonade crackseed flavor paleta.
One of my favorite aspects about the entire company is how well-developed their concept and branding idea is. The company has been around for about 18 months. The flavors are tested until perfected and the grand majority of the flavors have a cute little cartoon character to go with it. And if you catch Josh at the right time he can tell you about each and every character as if they were a family member.
Each character has its own personality, lives in its own era of time in a location of Hawaii and they are all beautifully tied together living in a land called Plantation Island which is a place that brings Hawaiian history and culture to life so that children and adults alike can learn about the inspiration behind Ono Pops.
I have became personally acquainted with flavors including but not limited to sweet edamame, caramel shoyu, gingatanical, butter mochi, ume thai basil, green tomato apple pie, poha berry and lemonade crackseed.
I left with a huge amount of new knowledge, a great amount of respect for Josh and a soft spot in my heart for all the characters on Plantation Island that have yet to tantalize my taste buds. If you live in Hawaii or come just for a visit, make it a point to stop a try an Ono Pop, I promise they are worth every penny and you will not regret it… As a matter of fact, I would go as far to say that your taste buds will thank you.
Mahalo Ono Pops!