Ana Mahoney’s childhood dream came true the day she opened Shaka Shave Ice in Chapel Hill.
Mahoney grew up making shave ice in Hawaii on the island of Maui in her mother’s shave ice shop. She even remembers using her church’s hand-crank shave ice machine to serve the popular frozen dessert to the other kids.
“Hawaiian shaved ice does tie me back because my family doesn’t live there anymore,” she said. “It kind of is a way to touch those memories even though I don’t get to be there anymore.”
Mahoney moved to Chapel Hill with her husband about 10 years ago when he attended Duke University. When he left the program and wanted to move back to the West Coast, Mahoney disagreed – she wanted to stay.
“When my youngest was five, that’s when I decided I would have enough time and energy to open up the shop I’ve always wanted,” she said.
Hawaiian shave ice is made by shaving a block of ice into very fine flakes, which look almost snow-like. The ice soaks up the flavored syrups, which at Shaka Shave, range from traditional snow cone flavors like blue raspberry and watermelon to more unique flavors like guava and passion fruit.
Shave ice is very different from a snow cone, though, because of the texture of the ice. Snow cones are made from crushed ice, where shave ice is lighter and fluffier.
Shaka Shave Ice only sells Hawaiian shave ice.
“It’s slow,” Mahoney said. “The blade passes over the ice one rotation at a time and makes smooth ribbons of ice come off.”
The name of Mahoney’s shop is a reminder of her home. In Hawaii, the shaka is a hand motion also meaning ‘hang loose.’
“It’s a kind of ‘hey, how are you doing?’ amongst people that you know or are seeing around a lot,” she said. “I just named the shop the shaka because I like that vibe and the idea behind it.”
Shaka Shave Ice has been open for three years on Merritt Mill Road. The shop opens and closes based on the weather. She said they are expanding the size of the store now because she wants to stay open in the winter and have indoor seating.
Mahoney says the shop attracts a mix of people.
“There are a lot of younger people, and the locals have been really great and welcoming,” she said.
Students are a hit or miss, Mahoney said, because it depends on whether they know about the shop or not. It is located on Merritt Mill Road on the further end of West Franklin Street, past most businesses that are more popular with students.
Mahoney hires local teens because there are not many jobs for them around the area. She said most of her staff are high school students.
“It’s a really fun first job, and it’s kind of important that the community provides a space for kids to get a chance to work,” she said.
Mahoney said she thrives off of customers coming to Shaka Shave Ice and leaving happy.
She said it would be fun to have more locations, and hopes to get a place on campus so she can broaden Shaka Shave Ice’s reach in the Chapel Hill and UNC communities.
“People come after they put down a pet, we have people come after they pass their exams, and it’s really neat to be a part of bigger moments in people’s lives in a way that’s not super intrusive, but you’re the sprinkle on top,” she said.
Shaka Shave Ice is at 102 S. Merritt Mill Road, Chapel Hill, NC, and on Facebook.
Reporting via Britney Nguyen