At Mo ʻOno Hawaiʻi, an acai bowl food truck on Maui, you can get your acai topped with papaya or served in a papaya. “We make custom acai bowls to everyone’s ʻono, or everyone’s craving,” says Toni Matsuda, co-owner of Mo ʻOno. “We have lilikoʻi butter, we have mango, we have blueberries, we have peanut butter – that’s my favorite.”
The wide array of toppings isa good way to get a taste of Maui. Kuʻulei Hanohano, the other half of the 100 percent wāhine-owned business, notes that most of the fresh ingredients are locally sourced. “We purchase a lot of our fruits from different local vendors and hit up a lot of farmer’s markets, especially in the central area,” she says. They buy their poi directly from kalo farmers: Ola Mau Farms, in Waiheʻe, and Nohana Farms in Waikapū.
Hanohano, 27, and Matsuda, 25, both Kamehameha Schools Maui graduates, started thinking about an acai bowl business back in high school because the frozen, fruit-topped concoctions could be found all over Oʻahu but almost nowhere on Maui. In college, they brought their idea to life, making and delivering acai bowls to friends and family.
“It all started as a side cash thing,” explains Hanohano. “We were both going to college, with typical college lives, pretty broke, not much funds,” describes Hanohano. “It pretty much got us through college and once we had both graduated, we decided to take it on full-time.” While a brick and mortar shop is the goal, starting out as a food truck made more sense. “At the time, food trucks were pretty big so it seemed like the perfect solution to start a small business, especially with just two people and little funds,” says Matsuda.
Their current food truck is a relatively recent acquisition. They started using it to sell their acai bowls back in January, at a food truck park at 591 Haleakala Highway. Prior to that, they had been using a trailer that Hanohano’s cousin built for them and Matsuda’s father outfitted with electricity and plumbing. The 5-foot by 10-foot trailer was cramped but they did the best they could, saving until they were able to expand. “Our product really took off,” says Hanohano. “We needed facilities and equipment to keep up with the demand.”
The Mo ʻOno owners had their eyes on a used food truck they saw advertised on Craigslist but the asking price was far out of their reach. They tried applying for a bank loan but were turned down for being too young and too inexperienced. OHA’s Mālama Loan Program, however, which supports Native Hawaiian entrepreneurs, approved them for a low-interest $20,000 loan. They used half of it as a down payment for the food truck – the sellers were willing to accept payment in installments – and the rest to buy commercial grade equipment to accommodate their growing customer base.
Neither Matsuda or Hanohano studied business in college – Matsuda’s bachelor’s degree is in social work, Hanohano’s in education and peace and conflict resolution. But neither has any regrets about their course of study, or about starting Mo ʻOno from scratch. “Nobody in my family is a business owner. Now I know business owners, but there was no model for us to go after in our family,” says Hanohano. “For us to be able to make things up as we go is hard, but it’s definitely rewarding.”