A true taste of the Aloha State.
Brandy Lynn Ford first found shave ice on a trip to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Her favorite roadside spots were ones that flavored the powdery ice with natural syrups and fresh fruit. “When I came back to Orlando, I didn’t intend to start a shave ice truck; I was just trying to find this treat and nobody had anything close to it,” she says. So Brandy tracked down and bought a vintage hand-cranked ice shaver, trying her own recipes on friends.
She took that trip because her father, Don, grew up in Hawaii. The family goes back generations with Don working in taro fields and on sugarcane plantations and, Brandy later found out, making shave ice as a teenager in a Waimānalo supermarket. Going by serial numbers and identifying marks, Brandy thinks there’s a good chance the shaver she now owns was once in her dad’s hands.
After serving in the Marine Corps, Don settled in Las Vegas. Brandy eventually joined the Navy, which brought her to Orlando, where she managed and cheffed in restaurants including Olive Garden, The Cheesecake Factory and Reel Fish. Last year, Don’s health began failing and he wanted to go back to Hawaii for hospice. To finance the move, Brandy turned her hobby into a business, opening Hanalei Shave Ice in a 1969 Shasta Loflyte trailer.
Don was too ill to return to Hawaii, so Brandy brought him to Orlando. She had a backyard luau, a celebration of life, for her dad with music and dancing and kalua pork roasted in an imu pit. “It’s kind of funny because every morning, for breakfast, he wants shave ice now. I don’t know if that’s the best thing for him, but I’m making it for him, you know?” (Her father passed away August 15.)
Brandy originally considered Hanalei Shave Ice as a temporary business, but she now plans to keep it going and at press time was looking for a permanent home.
Brandy Lynn Ford of Hanalei Shave Ice
Edible Orlando: For folks who don’t know, how is a shave ice different from a snow cone?
BLF: The ice is completely different. Shave ice is super soft and fluffy, kind of like compacted snow, and then you use fresh ingredients and you put those on top. The ingredients don’t go all the way down to the bottom. Obviously, I can give you more syrup because there are people that want like tons of syrup, but it’s more about the good ingredients on top of it.
EO: And you invent your own recipes, too?
BLF: I have this guy named Airam Dato-on. He’s a photographer here in Orlando, but he also has championed me. I created a flavor for him called The Photographer. He wanted an Earl Grey syrup and ube (purple yam) foam and ice cream at the bottom. I tried 30 different Earl Greys to make sure that I have the one that gets the most bergamot in it. I did it just to thank him for what he’d done for me.
There’s “The Kanoa.” Her name is Kanoe Greene. Her flavor is passionfruit, pineapple, strawberry with ice cream and then, she likes the whipped cream on top with strawberries and pineapple. I made that just for her because she’s been one of the first Hawaiians that came to my food truck and was like, “This is authentic.” You don’t ever want to take something that is a cultural treat and fake it. I want to honor my ancestors. I want to honor my father.
EO: What is it about shave ice that appeals to you? What do you like about eating it and making it?
BLF: My favorite part of it is sharing it with other people, you know? It’s not just a treat. It’s like “slow down, chill, relax.” It’s that whole island feel of slowing yourself down for a minute and enjoying something simple.
I have this huge growing ‘ohana (family) here in Orlando and it came out of a little tiny ice confection. I think I have more relationships now over a little food truck than I have over the last 20 years in the restaurant industry. It is people taking the time to get to know me and my craft and, you know, kind of just becoming ‘ohana in the best way. It’s the best way to put it. You’re just becoming family here in Orlando.
The Aloha Spirit of Hanalei Shave Ice
Every Hanalei Shave Ice comes with visible aloha spirit. After Brandy has dished up your papaya/orange/guava or strawberry shortcake, she plants a compostable spoon and straw on each side of the compostable paper bowl. No accident it looks like a “shaka”—the friendly Hawaiian hand sign with pinky and thumb extended that you might know as “hang loose.”