Asato Family’s Sherbet Takes You Back To Small-Kid Days
Who wouldn’t love Green River or li hing Icee sherbet?
The local-kine flavors of sherbet from Asato Family Shop.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
Neale Asato is a master of nostalgic flavors.
Somehow—I say it’s magic—he’s managed to recreate the small-kid-time flavors of my childhood in his line of sherbet, Asato Family Shop, available by subscription and, up until recently, on Saturdays at its Hālawa kitchen.
Lychee-flavored Calpico, White Rabbit candy, pickled mango, li hing sour belts, honey lemon peel, Green River. Imagine all those flavors in smooth sherbet form.
Asato has spent more than five years perfecting his sherbet and flavors, inspired by Maui’s Tasaka Guri-Guri.
“We frequented Tasaka while living on Maui for a few years and every time we got some, it always made my day,” Asato says. “We used to make ice cakes at home with our mom and we put condensed milk to try and get that special guri-guri flavor. … I think that food, and especially sweets, can make life a little better.”
Since then, Asato has worked in various kitchens in Honolulu, including Vintage Cave and Livestock Tavern, launched a food truck concept called BLK/BOX and ran the cafeteria at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. But he never stopped working on his sherbet.
Last year, he decided to launch a line of frozen treats, which at the time included ice cream and sorbet. (He’s only focusing on sherbet now.) He gets his inspiration for flavors from childhood memories of going to his auntie’s Kaohu Store on Maui and loading up on candy, hot dogs and Icees.
“That had a lasting impression on my childhood,” Asato says. “Creating those happy small-kid memories for the next generation is our goal.”
At the beginning of this year, he moved his operation into a 170-square-foot commercial kitchen in Hālawa and purchased a small commercial ice cream machine. (He will be moving into a bigger kitchen in Downtown soon.) He’s planning to get a large batch freezer soon to expand production.
He puts in 50 hours a week just to produce enough pints of sherbet for subscription customers and those who come out on Saturday to buy directly from him. He started with just seven monthly subscribers—all family and friends. Now he’s got about 300 subscribers, each paying $36 for six pints of sherbet, the flavors of which change regularly. And it’s not uncommon to see lines of between 75 and 100 people waiting to buy his sherbet on Saturday at the Hālawa kitchen.
At a recent launch of his Pink Starburst flavor at Rainbow Drive-In, Asato sold out in 20 minutes.
“It’s been a lot of work growing into what it is today,” he says. “It’s been humbling to see people line up hours before we open for general public sales. Subscribers who have been coming for a while and we know on a first name basis, that makes our day.”
Asato has concocted about 40 flavors so far, including matcha, ume shiso, s’mores, passion orange, grilled pineapple, calamansi mojito, chocolate gummy bear, Orange Bang and—my favorite—classic strawberry, which tastes very similar to the guri-guri that inspired the line in the first place.
One of the most popular flavors, though, is the li hing Icee float, something he (and many of us) grew up drinking as kids.
“The line gets nuts when we release this,” he says.
Right now, Asato is focusing on moving his kitchen to Downtown. But later on, he wants to open a brick-and-mortar space, a place similar to the crack-seed stores and mom and pop shops he went to as a kid.
“It’s all about community and making people happy,” Asato says. “I can’t think of a better thing to do in business than take care of the community and make someone’s day great.”