OnoPops is Back in Action
The popular frozen local popsicles make a comeback after a recent fire with a new flavor—the exotic jaboticaba.
OnoPops owner Josh Welch, middle, with Ashley Watts, a worker and super fan, and Bay Hamby, an intern, in his newly renovated Kalihi production kitchen.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
With a chef’s knife, Josh Welch slices through a deep purple popsicle and hands over a piece.
“This is one of my favorites,” says the owner of OnoPops. “I love it.”
The seasonal flavor is made from local jaboticaba fruits of this slow-growing tree native to Brazil but found in many Hawai‘i backyards. Welch cuts the thick-skinned berries and juices them. Then, he boils the skins and seeds, adds raw cane sugar, combines it back with the juice, makes a sorbet, then pours that into the popsicle molds. That’s a lot of work for this icy treat, which tastes like a cross between a blueberry and a Concord grape. Almost like you’re eating a popsicle made from wine.
“It’s impressive to sophisticated foodies,” Welch says. “But it’s also, you know, grape, so the kids love it.”
Welch cuts up some of his seasonal flavors, including jaboticaba and mountain apple.
OnoPops is back, after a fire in November engulfed its 750-square-foot production facility at the Waiakamilo Business Center in Kalihi. (It started by a pot left on the stove making heavy syrup.) Flames destroyed most of the equipment at a loss of about $125,000, which stalled production. Most of the inventory stored in freezers was spared, and Welch had enough to stock the shelves at Foodland and Whole Foods Market for a few weeks.
The company’s fire and liability insurance covered damage to the space, but without property or fail/loss coverage, Welch had to replace the equipment himself. He set up a GoFundMe account and raised nearly $7,000. He worked at night out of the certified kitchen space used by Kukui Sausage Co., one of his neighbors at the Kapi‘olani Community College farmers market, to keep OnoPops on supermarket shelves. And all of his vendors—Waialua Estate Chocolate, Hawaiian Crown Pineapple, Maunakea Green Tea, Whole Food Market—stuck with him as Welch worked to recover.
“In six years of running this family business, that was the most stressful thing that has ever happened,” Welch says. “But we soldiered through … We experienced the most amazing outpouring of aloha and support from our farmers market family and fans.”
Inside the newly renovated production facility in Kalihi. In November, the kitchen was engulfed in flames, and fire destroyed nearly all of the equipment. Welch set up a GoFundMe account and raised nearly $7,000 to help with repairing and replacing equipment.
OnoPops started in April 2010 with eight flavors. Today, it boasts a core of 14 flavors that are found in supermarkets and another 20 or so ready to roll, many of them seasonal and one-off flavors that show up on the menu board at farmers markets. About three years ago, OnoPops debuted a line of beverage syrups in more than 20 flavors including lychee, tamarind and strawberry made with local ingredients. The Local in Kailua uses them exclusively in its shave ice. Downbeat Diner in Downtown makes a bourbon cocktail with the mango syrup. And Whole Foods Market and Safeway sell them, too.
“We’re proud to say we’re putting the ‘Hawaiian’ back in ‘Hawaiian shave ice,’” Welch says.
OnoPops has also partnered with Roberts Hawai‘i to serve popsicles to every guest on a new, upscale booze cruise on the Ali‘i Kai Catamaran that launches soon.
Some of the seasonal flavors and favorites such as the Crack-seed Lemon Peel.
When we walked into his new kitchen last week, we were overwhelmed by the sweet smell of freshly cut mangoes, all locally picked in Iroquois Point. The mango is being used for a new flavor, the Mango 50/50, which boasts handmade vanilla ice cream—the vanilla is grown in Lāʻie—enrobed in a fresh mango sorbet. Two workers were busy making pops using Kula strawberries and goat cheese from the Surfing Goat Dairy on Maui. In his new $30,000 walk-in freezer, Welch shows us the Maui chèvre, Big Island milk, local ‘ōlena (turmeric) and eggs, and the lemon peel and li hing powder he makes himself.
Welch’s commitment to using local ingredients isn’t easy. For one, it makes for a product with a higher price point. But Welce remains as committed as ever, despite the changing landscape of Hawai‘i agriculture and hardships facing local farmers.
“Just as we were not deterred by the fire, we will not be defeated by the setbacks for Hawai‘i’s farmers,” he says. “We have kept our promise to our customers for over six years that all the dairy, sugar, fruit, chocolate and vanilla in our pops was grown in Hawaiian soil. We intend to keep that promise, by any means necessary.”
OnoPops, onopops.com, available at farmers'markets, Foodland, Whole Foods Market and Safeway.