The Sharkeys Ride the Chocolate Wave
The subject of this story started out to be a Chicken and Walnut Salad that I ate at Hilo Shark’s Shop on Keawe Street. Full of crunchy walnuts and tart cranberries, it was served over a bed of crispy lettuce ($7.50). I felt inspired to write about it so that readers could go check out their delicious menu.
One thing often leads to another, though, which turned out to be the case with this story. While I was waiting for my chicken salad, I happened to notice Shark’s cacao nibs and chocolate bars, and that got my wheels turning. I thought it was interesting that the Sharkeys (Tom, the father; Erin, the son) were up to more than chicken salad and decided to contact them.
I met Erin Sharkey at the Hilo Sharks Chocolate Shop on Waianuenue Avenue. It was a hot day, so he gave me a cup of cold cacao tea, which was very refreshing and quite unusual. Wait, what’s that, you ask? Cacao tea? Yes. I had never had it before, either. The aroma is enough to make you swoon. It doesn’t contain caffeine, but it does contain theobromine, which is somewhat similar to caffeine, but less powerful. It is also full of B vitamins and minerals, such as potassium and iron, as well as antioxidants. According to Sharkey, it is one of his best sellers.
The Sharkeys have a lot of irons in the fire.
They are growing cacao, which, happily, they make into chocolate. In fact, they even offer a class where you can learn to make chocolate, too. Sharkey loaded me up with different chocolate bars so that my husband and I could try them. They ranged in the percentages of cacao used (this is my kind of homework).
I saw photos of their cacao being fermented in specially-made maple wood boxes.
“The oldest beans make the best chocolate,” Sharkey explained.
This is indeed really good chocolate. It is loaded with flavor, but none of the bars I tasted were at all bitter or overly sweet. Only three ingredients are used: Hawaiian cacao, organic sugar and Hawaiian vanilla. The flavors ranged from earthy to refined.
Nibs are cacao beans (roasted and broken into tiny pieces). While they have a chocolate flavor, they are not very sweet, which I personally like. I found that I really love them sprinkled over a bowl of Greek yogurt with granola and a scoop of mac-nut butter.
Sharkey’s Waianuenue store, where you can buy their delicious coffee and tea (yes, they grow coffee, too), is also transitioning into a chocolate shop. There, I met Chef Ethan Swift. Ethan has worked with chocolate in various jobs and is obviously thrilled with his new position. He told me that he loves this chocolate because it is so “true” (pure).
“There are no emulsifiers or preservatives,” Swift explained. “It is all hand-processed, so it behaves differently than any chocolate I worked with before. It is extremely exciting getting to work with it.”
Swift is brimming with ideas for distribution and packaging; I was able to see a prototype box of chocolates (including truffles) that I cannot wait to buy for omiyage.
The Big Island, as it turns out, has ideal growing conditions for cacao. The Sharkeys are pouring chocolate bars four days a week. Cacao farming is rapidly growing in popularity; he predicts that before too long, we’ll become known as “The Chocolate Island.”
Both Sharkey and Swift were enthusiastic.
“To be caught in this boom, from the ground up, is really exciting,” said Swift.
The Sharkeys are active in promoting their product, offering farm tours to groups, including schoolchildren, and teaching classes.
What else goes into chocolate? Well, vanilla. You guessed it: The Sharkeys are growing vanilla.
There are five outlets for all of this Sharkey goodness:
- Hilo Sharks Shop, on Keawe Street, serves up specialty coffees, ice cream, breakfast foods (burritos, oatmeal, yogurt and granola, sandwiches) and lunch items. Besides the aforementioned Chicken-Walnut salad, check out the BLT and the Hammerhead sandwiches. What is fun about this funky location is that it used to be a gas station (I think) and so there is a large, covered outdoor area where they have comfortable chairs and tables. When I went, it was drizzling, but that wasn’t a problem. I could have eaten inside, too, but outside was fun for people-watching.
- Honomu Sharks Shop in Honomu, where in addition to coffee, they offer smoothies and wraps.
- Hilo Sharks Chocolate Shop, on Waianuenue, offers coffee, chocolate tea, and chocolates.
- The Sharkeys also have a presence at the Hilo Farmers Market, where you can buy coffee, chocolate, and farm-grown products.
They also maintain websites, where you can purchase their goods.
Hilo Sharks Shop is located at 99 Keawe St., Hilo, (808) 935-7500. Open Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m.–6 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m., and Sundays, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Parking: Street; parking lot also nearby.
Hilo Sharks Chocolate Shop is located at 41 Waianuenue Ave., Hilo, (808) 933-8685. Open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.–1 p.m. Closed Sundays. Parking: Street.
Honomu Sharks Shop is located at 28-1672 Old Mamaloahoa Highway, Honomu, (808) 963-6706. Open Monday through Saturday, 8 am.–6 p.m. and Sundays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parking: Street.