Hang loose in Hollister

Ohana Shave Ice transports its customers to Hawaii

ISLAND HEART A 2013 trip to Hawaii inspired Peter and Karina Hernandez to open Ohana Shave Ice—offering an authentic shaved ice experience. Photo: Robert Eliason

If Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, Hollister residents Karina and Peter Hernandez left theirs in Hawaii. How else to explain that the married couple of nine years have been able to bring a taste of Hawaii to the mainland with such rousing success? So it is for Karina and Peter, the owners of Ohana Shave Ice in downtown Hollister, which had their grand opening on July 26.

“We don’t have roots in Hawaii—we’re both Mexican (Americans)—but we fell in love with the Hawaiian culture when we were over there,” Karina says, referring to a family vacation in 2013. “My husband likes to say we’re not from Hawaii, but our hearts are from there.”

Karina and Peter’s love for Hawaii gave them a deep desire to share their experience with others. In particular, the Hernandez’s wanted to share their experience tasting Hawaiian shaved ice. When Karina and Peter went to Hawaii four years ago, they were mesmerized by the experience, including the culture, people and food.

Ohana Shave Ice has been a hit with customers because it serves authentic Hawaiian shaved ice, which consists of finely grated ice that mimics light and fluffy snow. The fluffy texture of the ice allows the syrup to spread evenly throughout the cup instead of it draining all the way to the bottom.

Ohana Shave Ice pride themselves on using high-quality syrup concentrates—the syrups are made in-house and the concentrates are all from Hawaii. Karina and Peter say the water used for their ice blocks and syrup is filtered from a local certified quality water vendor. By emphasizing quality in every aspect of their operation, Karina and Peter have turned their business into a dazzling experience.

From the moment people walk into Ohana Shave Ice, it’s as if they’ve been transported to Hawaii. Starting with the friendliness of the workers to the ambience and relaxing music, Ohana Shave Ice screams relaxation and good times.

“Before opening, we meditated and asked ourselves the question of what kind of experience did we want this shop to create,” Peter says. “We didn’t want to just provide great shaved ice, but we wanted to give people a true Hawaiian experience. How could we be a blessing to our community? What would that look like? Our (Christian) faith dictates our values, and we wanted to create a loving environment where people can gather and engage with each other.”

That is why there is no wifi at the shop; in fact, the Hernandez’s beam with pride when customers are in the shop and not on their phones. At Ohana Shave Ice, people communicate with each other the good old-fashioned way—face to face.

“We love it when people put their phones down and talk with each other,” Karina says.

“We wanted to instill the Hawaiian culture over here,” says Peter. “You see people on the roads and they’ll give you a shaka (sign), which means to hang loose, enjoy the moment and be thankful for the beauty that is around you. That is the experience we wanted to bring when someone walks into our shop.”

Although the Hernandez’s always had it in the back of their minds they would open up a shop, the process was accelerated by customer demand. Having owned a catering business since May 2015—the Hernandez’s cater to parties that average 50-60 people but also do larger corporate events that range in from 100-300 people while committing to various public events—but that wasn’t enough to satisfy a ravenous customer base that wanted shaved ice on a regular basis.

“We have a bit of a cult following,” Karina says with a laugh.

The constant demand meant the Hernandez’s had basically outgrew their operation and needed to open up a commercial kitchen.

“We needed to have a warehouse or commercial kitchen prep area where we could make more syrups and ice and store it properly,” Karina says. “The opportunity to open up a shop was perfect because we needed the space.”

Rewind back to the 2013 Hawaii vacation. Not only did the experience there lead Karina and Peter to the idea of opening up a business, it also brought something even more special nine months later—their third child, Ezra Kai, who is now 3 years old.

“We had actually been trying to conceive for a few years,” Karina says. “It was surreal and we still feel like he was our little miracle baby.”

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