For the last 20 years, UH Mānoa’s Shidler College of Business Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE) has hosted a semester-long UH Venture Competition.

Photo: Peter Hessler
Peter Hessler.

The winner of this year’s competition was Peter Kaʻimi Hessler and his startup business, Pono Potions, which manufactures latte and cocktail syrups using natural and organic, locally-sourced ingredients highlighting different flavors from our islands like whole Hawaiʻi Island macadamia nuts, Oʻahu ginger and ʻolena, and dried Molokaʻi hibiscus. Hessler received a $10,000 cash award and $23,000 worth of support services.

As a result of this accomplishment, Hessler is determined to expand. Pono Potions already has some regular clients and has grown its mail order business as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, with orders coming in from as far away as Florida and Virginia.

Photo: Peter Hessler with Friends
Pono Potions owner, Peter Hessler, at Kailua’s Lōkahi Market with friends who stopped by his tent to purchase some of his ʻono syrups. From L-R: Hessler, Kiana Carol and Tylor Pacheco.

“While working at restaurants, I saw the same syrups being used by everyone; no one was doing locally-sourced coffee syrups that reflected Hawaiʻi,” said Hessler. “I experimented with some recipes and people loved them. I knew I was onto something and committed myself 100% to creating an honest, natural, and exciting syrup company that represented Hawaiʻi.”

Hessler has familiarized himself with local farms and focused his energies learning about business, accounting, marketing, and graphic design, as well as Hawaiian language, culture, and history. He is currently a senior Travel Industry Management major at UH-Mānoa. Hessler grew up in Portland, Oregon, where he trained as a chef and bartender in fine-dining restaurants and hotels. He moved to Honolulu in 2016, and worked as a restaurant manager at Moku Kitchen at SALT where he created many of their cocktail syrups. He started Pono Potions in August 2019.

Beyond profits, Hessler wants his company to invigorate the community. He supports local farmers, donates proceeds from every sale to the Hawaiʻi Food Bank, and has implemented a bottle recycling program with wholesale clients to reduce single-use bottles and plastics. He hopes to eventually have a full manuacturing facility and export his products around the globe.

Hessler said, “The UH Venture competition made me realize new possibilities for Pono Potions, and gave me the resources and mentorship to lay the foundation for a sustainable business model. With the prize money, I am investing in professional labeling for my products and bottling equipment as we get ready to expand into retail stores and on Amazon in the next six months.”

Pono Potions manufactures their syrups at the Culinary Business Incubator at Pacific Gateway Center and distributes to local coffee shops. Pono Potions has an online store, www.ponopotions.com, and Hessler hopes to expand to retail stores and other coffee shops and restaurants throughout Hawaiʻi in the next year.