Cascading with a rainbow of colors, the round frozen ice treat goes by different names: snow cones, snowballs and shaved ice. But in Hawaii, it is simply “shave ice” — and one of the most popular stores in Hawaii sells more than 1,000 of them a day.
In the North Shore town of Haleiwa on the island of Oahu, Matsumoto Shave Ice, with its beige storefront and orange-and-black sign, is as famous for its shave ice as the North Shore is for its surf. Now celebrating 72 years, the store has been owned and operated by three generations of the Matsumoto family.
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing, as second-generation owner Stanley Matsumoto shares with SFGATE. His father, Mamoru, who founded the Matsumotos’ store, never knew life without hard work.
Mamoru Matsumoto was born to Japanese parents on the island of Hawaii in 1908, but his family returned to Hiroshima, Japan, when he was a toddler. There, his family struggled financially. When Mamoru was 20 years old, he left Japan to go back to Hawaii to find jobs to support his family. He worked on the sugar plantation, on the railroad and as a store salesman, but it was his dream to own his own business.
In 1951, Mamoru opened a grocery store, M. Matsumoto Store Inc, previously owned by Kazuo Tanaka. It’s believed Tanaka introduced Mamoru to his future wife Helen; the couple would have three kids. It was also Tanaka who suggested the business shift from selling grocery items to shave ice, or kakigori, a Japanese treat introduced in Hawaii by 19th-century Japanese sugar plantation workers.
“I remember the very first time the shave ice machine came in,” Stan says. “I was 5 or 6 years old, and I was so fascinated, watching this hand-crank machine get set up.”
“You know, that one machine lasted long time,” he adds. “Back then, machines were built strong. The only thing we had to change was the motor.”
The image of his father always sharpening the machine’s blades with a sharpening stone is still fresh in Stan’s memory. “There’s a technique to sharpening blades,” he says. “Me, I’m lazy. I just buy blades already.”
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