Edna Ching | July 17 , 2020
Pomai Kulolo was established in 2008 by Keanue Kekaula. Kekaula was raised in the heart of Kalihi and graduated from McKinley High School. After graduation, he decided to go on a two year Mormon mission. Upon his return, he found himself in need of some way to generate income. Pomai Kulolo was not his first attempt. His entry into entrepreneurship was with a friend whom together tried to make fire knives. Once their first knives were finished, they decided to test it at the Sheraton. Kekaula borrowed his brother’s truck to take them to Waikiki. En route to their destination, the back of the truck slid out and the truck slammed against a wall. He and his friend were okay, but now he owed his brother a truck.
That unfortunate event turned out to be Kekaula’s path to prosperity. During a family gathering, he overheard his brother and sister talking about their uncle who has been successful doing roadside vending. His uncle said that he would make $30,000 per month. Upon hearing that, Kekaula latched onto to that idea. But what would he sell? At the time, his brother was making kulolo and there was a lot leftover. He took the leftover kulolo and haupia that he made together with his mother and headed to Kahikili Highway in Kahaluu. That day was also the creation of haulolo – kulolo with haupia layered on top.
As a 21 year old, Kekaula had no fear. Starting young for him was fairly easy and he was motivated to pay his brother back – which he did. His company had to go through some rough patches, but those were only learning moments which strengthened his business acumen. His love for travel stymied the company’s growth. His then girlfriend, now wife, believed in Kekaula and asked that he focus on his kulolo venture full-time to maximize its potential. And that he did.
Together Kekaula and his wife worked countless hours to fill orders. They rented a certified kitchen in Kalihi. As demand grew, the longer they had to work until they hit a wall. They were strained and it was not very healthy for them. Kekaula needed help and who better to ask than family. In 2012, the same year he signed a lease on a bigger kitchen, he asked his big brother who has a business background and lives on the Big Island to help him. His big brother was whole-heartedly supportive of his vision and moved back to Oahu. His brother’s return to Oahu was a game changer. Together they were able to triple their sales.
Today, Pomai Kulolo is best known for its kulolo and haulolo. Kulolo, a traditional Hawaiian dessert made with taro, sugar (traditionally Sugar Cane Juice), coconut milk and coconut cream. Kekaula’s family recipe produces a kulolo that is smooth and firm – kind of like mochi, but not as chewy. To make kulolo is very difficult and the time it takes to steam is very long as well. This makes Pomai Kulolo’s products convenient and viable options. And you can now find them in their family restaurant, The Taro Leaf, Time’s Supermarkets, Tamura’s and 7-Eleven Hawaii. You can also find them in farmers markets across Oahu. Go to their website, www.pomaikulolo.com, for their farmer’s market calendar and more information.
The mission of Pomai Kulolo is to put the taste for poi and kulolo on the palates of the people by strengthening Hawaii’s farmers, constantly improving its processes, and providing quality product to be enjoyed by all. It is driven by Kekaula’s “go out and do it and enjoy what you do” philosophy. But most importantly, Pomai Kulolo is supported by family.