Matsumoto Shave Ice, an island institution, struggles to keep the doors open

Updated: Sep. 12, 2020 at 10:42 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Residents and visitors alike know full well any trip through Haleiwa isn’t complete without a stop at Matsumoto Shave Ice, a local institution for 69 years.

From strawberry to coconut to rainbow topped with condensed milk and azuki bean, all the flavors are still there. But these days, business is at a standstill.

“The pandemic hit Oahu during our most profitable time, which is spring break and also summer break, so our numbers have changed drastically since last year,” said Remy Matsumoto, whose family has owned the shop since the early 1950s.

[This story is part of HNN’s “Hawaii Strong” series, profiling businesses in the islands adapting to the pandemic and its economic fallout. To suggest a profile, send an email to]

Pre-pandemic, Matsumoto’s would churn out 1,200 delicious delights on a typical summer day, however, the coronavirus has decimated that.

“If we’re lucky, maybe like 200 to 300 on weekdays, which is still really good,” Matsumoto said. “But our sales have definitely dropped by like 60 to 70% compared to last year.”

Since Hawaii’s coronavirus surge began, the shop’s workforce has been reduced by more than half, forcing the Matsumoto family to consider whether it’s even worth it to stay open.

“It’s been really hard because we have to make these decisions in a matter of one or two days,” Matsumoto said. “With this second lockdown, they give us a one or two day notice, so it’s been kind of difficult for me and my parents, the owners, to make a decision like that, but I think one of the most important things in surviving this pandemic is being able to adapt as quickly as possible.”

In light of the restrictions, the shave ice experience has been completely adjusted: Masks at all times when inside, the retail side with souvenirs has been closed down, and orders are placed through a barrier of Plexiglass. With tourism regulations in place, Matsumoto’s is leaning on the community.

“I work at one of the hotels in Waikiki and we have a little art gallery in there,” said Matsumoto’s customer Sarah Chung. “We’ve been closed since March, but we really appreciate when locals come by and just not having that tourism is really hard, so we try to support local when can.”

Come next February, the iconic business is planning to celebrate its 70th anniversary. It’s unknown how the world will look then, but this family knows it has the resilience to last until then and beyond.

“Even in the past, even if there was like a natural disaster, anything that happened, we always stayed open and dealing with this is like so different and something that we’ve never expected,” Matsumoto said. “So I think it’s been hard for all of us and they’re so awesome.

"We’ve been in this business for like 69 years and so like, I feel that we can overcome this together.”

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