(Star Advertiser) Devoted customers line up for nostalgic taste of Asato Family Shop sherbet

Devoted customers line up for nostalgic taste of Asato Family Shop sherbet

(Source: Star Advertiser)

  • Video by Bruce Asato and Craig T. Kojima / basato@staradvertiser.com and ckojima@staradvertiser.com

    The Asato Family Shop makes sherbet inspired by treats from small-kid time. The shop’s subscription sherbet business draws lines every Sunday.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Asato Family Shop’s sherbet flavors include Da Classic Pineapple, left, Green River and Pickled Mango Juice

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Sunny White, left, with Saige and Tia Tabisola, were first in line at the Asato Family Shop on a recent Sunday, arriving at 5:50 a.m. to secure their haul of 48 pints of sherbet in a variety of flavors.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Neale Asato mixes ingredients for sherbet. These may include lemon peel, gummy bears and pickled mango juice.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Nathan Asato packs a customer’s order.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    On St. Patrick’s Day, Neale Asato, helped by his daughter Mila, 4, treated customers waiting in line to samples of Green River sherbet. Many had been in place since early in the morning, hoping to secure a few precious pints of Asato Family Sherbet.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Five-year-old Kingston Oliveira enjoys his sample.

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Every Sunday, customers set up their chairs and get comfortable as they settle in for a wait that can be a few hours long. The tiny Asato Family Shop on Pali Highway opens at 10 a.m.; by then everyone is chatting happily in a line that curls around the building to the entrance of nearby Longs Drugs.

They’re not waiting for some phenomenal sale to begin, but to get their weekly sherbet fix before the supply runs out. It’s not the usual stuff, but is tagged as “local-kine sherbet” — made in small batches with all sorts of treats, from gummy bears to li-hing mui and dried lemon peel — da kine that will take you back to your favorite childhood snack shop.

“Few things in life make us happier than the treats of our youth,” said co-owner Neale Asato, who opened the shop in December with his parents, Nathan and Colene Asato.

Those flavors are associated with big and little celebrations in life, and that could be what draws such devoted customers, Neale said. “People come back every week. We know a lot of people by name and their whole family.”

Sunny White of Pauoa has tried to be first in line every Sunday since the grand opening because “their sherbet is truly ono! I can’t wait for their new flavors to come out. … My family and friends have put their orders in, as they know that I’ll be there to make sure to get their flavors.” White picks up sherbet for people as far away as Hauula.

ASATO FAMILY SHERBET

>> Where: 1306 Pali Highway
>> Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays
>> Advance orders: Accepted starting at noon Sundays for the following Sunday.
>> Contact: Visit asatofamilyshop.com; or email asato familyshop@gmail.com.

“It’s also been fun to meet new people each Sunday,” said White, who brings her son, prepared with his YouTube videos to pass the time. “It’s just amazing to see how early people get there and how long the lines get.”

So, what’s with the line? The shop is only open Wednesdays and Sundays for a few hours at a time for people to pick the sherbet. But only 75 subscriptions — or advance orders — are available per week. Few of the 100 people who come early have subscriptions — most are just hoping to grab whatever extras are available on a first-come, first-served basis. (Some subscribers also come early, even though their orders are guaranteed, to pick up some extras for friends, Neale said.)

The Asatos just started opening on Wednesdays in January, mostly to accommodate people without subscriptions, Neale said.

As nostalgic as he is for old-fashioned pleasures, Neale adopted a modern business model, using social media to full advantage. The sherbet sells out within minutes once the week’s subscriptions are posted online — at noon every Sunday.

The business has grown so fast that the website gets jammed with too many people trying to order at once. Neale, who puts in well over eight hours every day, said he needs to buy a bigger ice cream- making machine to handle the volume.

Each subscription is $36 for 6 pints — one each of the classic strawberry, pineapple and Green River (lemon-lime) flavors; and three of limited-edition flavors for adventurous eaters.

Some of the flavors: lemon peel/gummy bears, li-hing float (reminiscent of an Icee float with a swirl of ice cream) or Neale’s favorite, pickled mango juice. His parents suggested matcha green tea and ume shiso flavors.

The business began because Neale missed the unique frozen treat called guri-guri, a cross between ice cream and sherbet made famous by Tasaka Guri-Guri on Maui.

When his family moved to Oahu from Maui, the guri-guri remained a favorite, and a visit to Tasaka’s was always the first and last stop on visits to the Valley Isle. Just for fun, Neale began experimenting with his own recipe for a treat similar to strawberry guri-guri several years ago at home. He shared it with family and friends, then production snowballed into a steady online business, started in September 2017 in Haleiwa.

Neale’s parents, his wife, Erin, and their kids all pitch in, along with other relatives, on Sundays.

Colene said she’s proud to see her grandchildren, only 4 and 11, so eager to help. She loves to come out of the kitchen in her hairnet to chat with customers. “People are so nice! … It’s like they’re family, too.”

She said she’s reminded of the Kaohu Store on Maui, during an earlier time when her aunt owned it. The shop sold groceries, but was also popular for snacks like hot dogs, candy and ice cream. Colene worked at the store in the summers, and Neale and his siblings spent a lot of time there with relatives. “It was so much fun; we all helped out.”

That’s at the root of the Asato family’s dream to have a neighborhood snack shop one day, but for now it’s just sherbet. Mother and son share an enthusiasm for old mom-and-pop shops, homey places run by families that have closed that they would love to bring back. Her family once owned several drive-ins, and Neale grew up learning to work in these restaurants.

Besides the sherbet’s novelty flavors, Colene believes customers enjoy the family touch, which is one of the reasons White is a repeat customer. “The Asato family are such kind people. This is a key ingredient for running a good business,” White added.

Despite the marathon shifts required when owning your own business, Neale said, “I don’t feel like I’m working … I enjoy doing it.” His mom echoed the sentiment: “I don’t work at all! I only play!”

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