Life Hack: “Cropsticks” Will Make Your Life—Or at Least Your Lunch—Easier
Hawai‘i entrepreneur plunges into “Shark Tank” with her new chopstick idea on April 7.
You’ve probably seen the internet buzz about so-called life hacks that involve chopsticks, and been as skeptical as most of us Hawai‘i folks about the odds of somebody in a totally fork-dominated culture coming up with some undiscovered trick.
Early last year, articles on websites that include metro.co.uk and mic.com revealed the “mind-blowing purpose” of the little rectangular tabs that join together those slightly fancier disposable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants sometimes. According to these websites, instead of just splitting chopsticks in two, the tabs at the top are meant to be broken off completely and used as a chopstick rest.
It sounds good but, generally, it doesn’t work.
Photos: Courtesy of Cropsticks
Have you ever tried breaking off those wooden tabs? Even if you had the superhuman thumb strength required, you end up splintering apart your chopsticks. The vertical grain of the sticks doesn’t allow for an easy break.
You’d think, instead of just trusting a single viral tweet about this supposed life hack, somebody would’ve actually, you know, given this a try. Nope. Maybe they don’t have as easy access to chopsticks as we do.
Mylen Yamamoto, however, did take notice. In 2015, this Moanalua High School grad was on a bumpy flight to Singapore when her chopsticks kept rolling off the tray table because of the turbulence. The long flight afforded her the time to think up a solution: being able to snap off the top portion to create a makeshift hash-oki, or chopstick rest.
“At the time, I was teaching marketing and entrepreneurship at Loyola Marymount [University] in California as a clinical professor, but I didn’t know about how to actually make a product,” Yamamoto said in an interview this month. In January 2016, she and her husband, Ron Tansingco, went to China to pitch companies on the concept for funding, without success. They returned to the United States disappointed but kept talking about the concept with friends and family. Turns out one of their friends, Jay Chang, owns a company in San Diego specializing in bamboo manufacturing. They teamed up to make a prototype but still lacked the capital necessary to launch their new chopsticks effectively.
That’s when articles about the chopstick “trick” exploded across the internet.
“We thought, oh crap,” Yamamoto says. “We actually had this idea but now anybody else can just come in now that it’s out there.” The viral articles lit a fire under the team to quickly launch a Kickstarter campaign. They raised $21,000, joined UH Mānoa’s XLR8UH business startup program and began mass-producing “Cropsticks”; crop because the sticks are made of bamboo, a sustainable crop. The wrapping is made of recycled paper, as one of their big goals is prioritizing sustainability.
Another goal: growing Cropsticks into the de facto disposable chopsticks you get in every restaurant, with every meal. It’s a big plan, but they’ve already secured major support with restaurateurs Roy Yamaguchi and J. Garrett Karr carrying Cropsticks at all the Roy’s properties as well as MW Restaurant. After a successful launch party this past Thursday at Eating House 1849 in Waikīkī, we think Yamamoto’s new chopsticks will quickly garner more local notice.
They’ve already attracted national attention—tune in to ABC’s Shark Tank on April 7, when Yamamoto will present Cropsticks to try to score financial backing on the popular show.
“It’s been a really fast year,” Yamamoto says, with a laugh.
Interested in trying Cropsticks? In addition to the above restaurants, they’re available for purchase (a package of 25 for $6.99) online at cropsticks.co, and Yamamoto says plans are in the works to offer them for sale in retail locations across the Islands soon.