If you have ever been to Hawaii, you have heard of shave ice. That is shave ice; not shaved ice. If you have never heard about it, most mainlanders (people who live in the contiguous 48 states) compare it to snow cones. For the rookies out there, two qualities define a good shave ice: the ice and the syrup. The ice should be so finely shaven that it has an almost powdery texture. Syrups however are a topic of personal preference. I generally look for places with odd flavors such as yuzu, li-hing mui or pickled mango.
Upon hearing about Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha, a place that makes their own syrups, I knew I would have to visit. Little did I know I was in for much more than just shave ice. Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha started out as a childhood dream. Clayton Chang would visit Doe Fang, a local candy shop of sorts, as a child and daydreamt about owning it someday. Years later he became the fourth owner of said shop and discovered a new calling. He realized that through his store he could serve the community and share the concept of Aloha with all those who stopped by.
His nephew Bronson had the great idea to incorporate modern social entrepreneurship to finance the opening of a new store when Doe Fang shut down. The team decided to use ProFounder, a crowdfunding platform that harnesses the power that can be created by a community to open and support local businesses. Contributions were made, renovations completed and doors opened; once again creating a forum for the aloha ambassador to work his magic.
When I visited Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha I took a friend with me who had never tried shave ice before. Walking through the front door, time loses sense. All that matters is shave ice and what will be shared over it. We ordered mango-strawberry and chocolate-green tea, both of which were spectacular. I do not think I could possibly eat shave ice with commercial syrups ever again. The strawberry syrup was so flavorful and homemade, it even had the seeds! The shave ice tasted of childhood and happiness.
As corny as that sounds, it is one of those experiences you will just have to immerse yourself in one day to fully understand. Hawaiians do something called ‘talk story’, which is their way of saying ‘shoot the breeze’ or ‘talk shop’. We were fortunate to meet Uncle Clay and talk story with him. The man struck me as a kind of Hawaiian Mr. Rogers. He told us about his Aloha mission and invited us to be a part of his Ohana, which is Hawaiian for family.
Uncle Clay looked at my friend as if he were reading a book and then asked him what his dreams were. My friend was a bit disconcerted and responded he didn’t have any. It didn’t take long for the conversation to steer him into a self-discovery mindset that stayed with him for the rest of the day. It was truly intriguing to watch how one person could have such a ripple effect on a stranger.
I am so glad we found the House of Pure Aloha. The rest of my day played out beneath a cloud of mana (Hawaiian for good vibes or energy). Uncle Clay left us with a beautiful thought: “At the House of Pure Aloha, there are no strangers – only ohana yet to be met.”
Mahalo Nui, Uncle Clay!