Over the course of five years and partially during the nation's worst recession since the Great Depression, Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice has grown from a single 65-square-foot store in Lahaina to a chain in multiple island locations.
And this summer, it will expand again, this time to the Maui Lani Center with Safeway, across from Baldwin High School.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice is Ululani Yamashiro’s brainchild and namesake. David Yamashiro, an owner of Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, pours coconut flavoring on a shave ice.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Ululani Yamashiro (left) and Akiko Kina hustle to keep up with the orders of a long line of customers Friday afternoon.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The Gemma family of Seattle, including parents Patrick and Mollie, Nick, 12, and Natalie, 9, cool off with shave ice from Ululani’s in Kihei on Friday afternoon. They said it was their second time at the store after it was recommended to them by friends who had visited Maui.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"We feel very blessed," said Ululani's owner, David Yamashiro.
Being able to survive and thrive during the recession, along with the help of dedicated employees and partners, Yamashiro feels more confident about the business, founded by his wife, Ululani.
"I don't think there are any obstacles we cannot overcome," he said.
Yamashiro expects the shop in Maui Lani to open in June or July. It will feature the soft, melt-in-your-mouth, finely shaved ice. In addition, there will be "local style" grinds, including manapua, pork hash and chow fun. Ululani Yamashiro said he hopes to have freshly made manapua and pork hash from Maui, something not widely found on the Valley Isle, especially when compared to Oahu.
Ululani's is Maui Lani Center's first publicly announced tenant since Safeway opened in September. Although the subject of speculative rumors of major national restaurant chains moving in, the buildings and spaces next to Safeway remain vacant.
David Yamashiro said the move to Maui Lani is a strategic one, like the rest of Ululani's business expansions.
The shop could attract students from nearby Baldwin High School and customers from the Kaiser Permanente complex, nearby state and county offices and children's playing fields at the War Memorial Complex.
The landlords are familiar to Ululani's owners. The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation owns the land under the Maui Lani Center; the foundation also is the landlord for Ululani's other stores. David Yamashiro said that he is pleased to know that the rent they pay goes toward "worthwhile organizations." The Weinberg Foundation donates millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations and other community efforts each year.
With the new Wailuku store, Ululani's will have two Central Maui locations, the other at the Akaku Center on Dairy Road. Other locations include its original shave ice shop at 819 Front St. and another at 790 Front St.
Its two other shops sell more than shave ice. At its Lahainaluna Cafe, also at 790 Front St., the Yamashiros serve up sandwiches, salads and plate lunches, including mahimahi tacos.
Ululani's has a shave ice location along South Kihei Road at the old Suda Store, where the couple also sell croissants, savory pies with Portuguese sausage and sweet pies, including key lime, in its Sugar Beach Bake Shop.
More Ululani's locations are planned, including expansion to Oahu and another large project in Lahaina. David Yamashiro said plans are to expand into a vacant building called the "Tree House" next to its 790 Front St. shop, possibly by the end of the year.
David Yamashiro said all of the business moves were "strategic" ones after the original shop opened in what Yamashiro calls the "worst possible time" on Dec. 26, 2008. He wrote in an email that the "recession was peaking, banks were crashing, and the presidential election had consumers frozen and afraid of traveling and spending."
The original shop was near Cheeseburger in Paradise. For the 65 square feet, they paid $2,500 a month in rent, which was "way too much," he said.
Amid the severe downturn in the economy, their business skyrocketed. After four months, the Yamashiros had to take the storefront space next to them to accommodate the growing demand and lines for their shave ice. With the expansion came a second shave ice machine, two additional chest freezers for ice, another refrigerator and two to three additional "awesome employees per shift."
Ululani Yamashiro, who hails from Oahu, praised her husband, who was first to arrive on Maui in November 2008 to start up the venture.
"Dave really took it from point A to what it is today, with lots of hard work and dedication and commitment," Ululani Yamashiro said.
The Yamashiros haven't looked back, expanding to Central and South Maui, driven by local residents clamoring for a shave ice shop in their neighborhood. The Kahului and Kihei locations were selected because they were good spots to attract visitors and provided space for the long lines. The second Lahaina location at 790 Front St., just a short distance from the original store at 819 Front St., was opened to ease the long lines at the original location.
They were forced to provide additional foods at the Kihei Ululani's under terms of their lease, but the Yamashiros saw that as an opportunity to expand their offerings to increase the likelihood of success for other future franchises in colder areas and during slower periods.
Shave ice, though, remains the heart of Ululani's. There are 45 "regular flavors" made from pure cane sugar and eight to 10 sugar-free flavors. There also are "add-ons" to the ice treat, including Maui-made Roselani's "gourmet" line of ice cream and mochi made from Maui Speciality Chocolates.
David Yamashiro said the most popular flavors are coconut, mango, lilikoi and pineapple. Among the locals, the most popular flavors are strawberry, blue vanilla, li hing mui and Melona.
The Ululani's shave ice idea came in 2003, when Ululani Yamashiro took some retirement money and purchased her first shave ice machine and supplies while living in Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash.
She took her Hawaiian-style shave ice, the finely shaved type, not the chunky ice found in Mainland "snow cones," to community events and private parties. Over several years, Ululani's reputation and exposure grew throughout the Pacific Northwest.
After a trip back home to Oahu in late 2008, Ululani Yamashiro wanted to be closer to her mother and family, so she and David moved back to the islands.
Although their move occurred at the onset of the "Great Recession," the Yamashiros and a partner took the chance to open a shave ice shop in Lahaina. One of David Yamashiro's family members encouraged them to come to Maui and told them that a shave ice business could thrive on the island.
And thrive they did.
Normally, businesspeople see others in their product line as competitors, possibly the enemy. Not so with David Yamashiro, who commended anyone brave enough to open up a shave ice shop.
"People do not realize how hard it is to run a shave ice business," said David Yamashiro. "The perception is that all you need is a machine, ice and flavors and everyone will be lining up to get your shave ice. Not so.
"It is hard work."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.