- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Fairbanks summers seem to keep getting hotter and hotter. As we try to find ways to beat the heat, some of us look to other states to see how they handle it when the temperature climbs.

Previous visitors to Hawaii know our island friends have been keeping cool for generations with “shave ice,” a melt-in-your-mouth concoction of shaved — not crushed —ice first brought there by Japanese plantation workers in the late 1860s.

Now, thanks to local entrepreneur Willie Cooks, Fairbanksans can visit one of two Hokulia Shave Ice shacks to indulge in the flavorful cooling treat one customer recently described as “like a cloud of happiness in your mouth.”

Shave ice is made by shaving a block of ice and then drenching it with flavored syrup. The shaved ice is light, fluffy and snow-like, so the syrup is absorbed by the ice instead of just falling to the bottom like it would in a snow cone.

The treat traditionally is called “shave ice,” not “shaved ice,” and it is this authentic Hawaiian dessert experience that Hokulia Shave Ice offers.

Customers can choose from 50 flavors of syrup, ranging from old standbys like cherry, grape and pineapple to more exotic flavors such as piña colada, lychee or li hing mui, a salty dried plum powder originally from China and popular in Hawaii.

Customers also can try one of eight Hokulia combinations such as the Kona Sunset — mango, guava and passion fruit — or the Northern Lights, which is a mixture of mango, blue raspberry, blackberry and melon.

Shave ice is offered in three sizes — the Short Board for $4, the Long Board for $5.50 and the Big Kahuna for $7. Those who want to experience shave ice in traditional island style can have it served on a base of ice cream and topped with a “sno cap” of sweetened condensed milk. Coconut flakes, li hing mui powder or a spray of sour syrup are also offered.

Cooks said he first heard of shave ice after his military dad moved the family to Fairbanks when he was 15.

“A lot of my friends at West Valley frequented Hawaii, and one of the things that everybody always tells you is “Go check out the shave ice when you go,” Cooks said.

Cooks, a go-getter who started mowing lawns at age 10 and hasn’t stopped working since, was a cement mason before starting a video production company, two promotions companies and a popular food trailer called the Soul Shack.

“I’m always looking for something new. I don’t get bored, I get complacent. I like the challenge,” Cooks said.

Cooks had sold the Soul Shack and was looking for a new business venture when he went to Hawaii on vacation in February 2014. He started asking himself how a shave ice business would do in Fairbanks and wasted no time doing his research when he got home. He discovered Hokulia Shave Ice and looked into becoming a franchisee.

“It seemed to be a pretty prominent franchise and they had a bunch of good reviews,” Cooks said. “I sought them out, we talked and I went down there. The product was awesome and corporate was full of great people.”

Cooks invested “over $100,000” for the branded Hokulia Shave Ice Shack trailers, machinery and ingredients. He opened for business last July after training at the company headquarters in Utah.

“It just took off. People love it. We were overwhelmed at how Fairbanks responded to us. I’m 30 years old, and this was a scary investment but it was well worth it.”

Cooks runs the business with the help of his wife, Rashawna Cooks, who does the paperwork when she’s not working at the Presbyterian Hospitality house or taking care of their three children.

Cooks said he trains the young people who work for him to have great customer service skills.

“We understand that we are a dessert stand. Dessert is a delicacy, it’s not a necessity, so we really appreciate our customers coming to spend their money with us,”

Cooks said his business helps him to do what’s important in his life.

“I have a good family, and I like to spend time with them. This lets me to do that,” Cooks said.

Business: Hokulia Shave Ice Products: Hawaiian shave ice in more than 50 flavors for $4-$7, with extras ranging from 75 cents to $1.50 Address: 910 Old Steese Highway and 3574 Airport Way Hours: 12-9 p.m. Sunday through Friday, 12-10 p.m. Saturday Founded: July 2014 Contact: 978-2656 Owner: Willie Cooks


Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com

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