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Maui in Your Freezer


There was a time when ice cream lovers on Maui had Roselani Ice Cream all to themselves-unless, of course, you could fit a cooler into your airplane's overhead compartment. Now, it's getting easier for local sweet tooths to find this once exclusive treat, as the company expands into supermarkets and eateries throughout the Islands.

The key to Roselani Ice Cream's appeal is its roster of flavors-an ever-growing list, since company vice president Cathy Nobriga Kim is constantly developing new flavors for her devoted fans. The family-run business now makes more than 40 flavors, including Kona Mud Pie, Mango and Cream, Poha Berry, Chocolate Macadamia Nut and its bestseller, Haupia, using local ingredients whenever possible.

Cathy Nobriga Kim dishes out the good stuff at Roselani Ice Cream on Maui. Photo: Stephen Holding

"We love ice cream, we enjoy ice cream," says Nobriga Kim, granddaughter of creator Manuel Nobriga, who, in 1932, began making ice cream out of the Maui Soda and Ice Works plant in Wailuku. The company was passed down from Manuel to his son, David "Buddy" Nobriga, who retired in 2000. That year, Nobriga Kim, who had been working at the plant since her teens, was made vice president. "I do not look upon myself as vice president and the person who walks around and says, 'do this, do that,'" she says. "If it requires that I go to the trenches, then I go to the trenches."

Roselani Ice Cream is now operated by Nobriga Kim and her four brothers, and is a division of Maui Soda and Ice Works Ltd. "It's kind of in our blood," she says. While many of Roselani's ice cream flavors were originally developed by grandfather Manuel and his son Buddy, Nobriga Kim has added her share of recipies to the family stash. "[Manuel and Buddy] learned from reading books on ice cream making," she explains. "but they learned mostly from experimenting and tasting and saying yea or nay."

Nobriga Kim herself has a small-batch freezer in the plant, where she flexes her creative muscles, testing new flavors as inspiration strikes. The freezer produces five to 10 gallons of product, enabling Nobriga Kim to fill custom orders for local businesses. One year, for example, on the Friday before Thanksgiving, a Maui chef called Kim, requesting cranberry ice cream. "I said, 'let me try,'" she recalls. She began production that Monday, and, with the help of her small-batch freezer, was able to deliver on time for Thanksgiving.

Nobriga Kim's concoctions have created devoted fans. Once Nobriga Kim received a handwritten note from a woman who had visited Maui from the Midwest, telling how she had kept, washed and sun-dried her emptied Roselani Ice Cream cartons as a souvenir of her Maui trip. "To receive a note like that is the ultimate thank you," she says.

Roselani Ice Cream was only available on Maui until 1998, when the company began expanding its availability to the other islands. "We're going through the early stages of growing pains," says Nobriga Kim. "Going to the Neighbor Islands is a challenge. The Maui market is different from the O'ahu market. It's almost like starting all over again."

Honolulu sweettooths can find Roselani Ice Cream in such restaurants as Brew Moon and La Mariana Sailing Club. Shoppers can also take home half-gallon containers from Star supermarkets statewide, O'ahu Times supermarkets, Foodland/Sack n' Save stores statewide and Maui Safeways. Nobriga Kim hopes the expansion will make their product accessible to even more Island folks, but, while the company is moving forward rapidly, she aims to keep the traditions and values of her family alive and well. "You can pick up speed, but we're not losing the art," she says.

And which of these 40-plus flavors is Kim's favorite? "Vanilla," laughs Kim. "I'll eat Kona Mud Pie, I'll eat mint-chip, but I like vanilla."

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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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