A Hilo family business uses smoothies to build a healthier community
On a recent trip to Hilo, I decided to do a story on the top five smoothie spots in town. It seemed like a fun idea — driving around and tasting different smoothies, based on recommendations from the community. But to my surprise, I didn’t end up doing a whole lot of driving. Everyone I spoke to suggested the same spot, Sweet Cane Cafe.
Making great smoothies is one thing, but to have the whole town convinced that yours are the best? I couldn’t get into my rental car fast enough. My smart phone led me on a 10-minute drive on Kilauea Avenue, right to Sweet Cane’s colorful painted doors.
I was greeted at the family-owned cafe by a smiling Cherub Silverstein, who asked what she could get started for me. The choice was easy. I wanted the most popular item on the menu, the Go Green Smoothie. Like many of the cafe’s drinks, the Go Green is made with sugar cane juice. It’s got kale, chard, parsley, banana and mango, too, and it only took a few sips from my cold mason jar for me to taste the reason for Sweet Cane’s loyal following of thirsty patrons.
The cane juice is what sets these smoothies apart. Cane juice has a natural taste. And it’s rich in complex carbohydrates, which break down slower, giving you sustained energy. Cherub says the cafe uses a particular variety of cane that’s great for juicing and high in nutrients. The cane is grown on the family farm, a 17-acre parcel known as Onomea Farms.
Using cane sugar from the family farm aligns with Sweet Cane’s mission to promote local, organic health food. Sweet Cane Cafe, which opened three years ago, is the brainchild of Cherub’s mother, Jackie Prell. Today, it’s a gathering place in Hilo, where all sorts of people come to catch up with friends while enjoying a healthy meal.
I’m still enjoying my smoothie as Cherub breaks away from our conversation to help another customer. That’s when a man seated at the table in front of me turns around to start a conversation. He points at my Go Green Smoothie and says that’s his favorite. But on that day, he was mixing it up, trying a Blueberry Soursop instead. At 76, he adds, he only goes out to eat healthy meals and Sweet Cane Cafe is one of his two top stops.
As Cherub makes her way back to my table to chat, Frankie, another customer, yells from across the eatery, “Slushie Saturdays are amazing too.” (Is there anyone in Hilo that doesn’t want to be a part of this interview? I digress.) Every weekend, the cafe fires up the slushie machine to offer cool treats that feature a local ingredient. Lilikoi was scheduled to be next on the list.
Aside from its menu of 17 regularly offered smoothies and acai/pitaya bowls, the cafe also offers a service you don’t see at your average beverage station — juice cleanses.
The cleanses were developed by Cherub’s sister, Rosey Silverstein, a certified nutrition coach. The detox system lasts five days, and customers come each morning to pick up six, 16-ounce vegetable juices to drink throughout the day:
• Juice No. 2: Contains carrots, beets, apple, ginger, celery, cucumber. The veggies supply sugars to help satisfy hunger and to stay energized throughout the day.
• Juice No. 3: It’s called a “Skinny Lemonade” with the main ingredient being aloe vera to help regenerate stem cells in the body and increase digestion and metabolism.
• Juice No. 4: Coconut water is the main ingredient, which is used to hydrate and replenish electrolytes.
• Juice No. 5: Known as the dinner drink, it contains root vegetables and lots of greens — comparable to a dinner salad.
• Juice No. 6: This dessert drink with macadamia milk gives the body calcium and magnesium to help you sleep better.
The juices should be consumed about two hours apart, and can be customized to meet the customer’s needs.
Rosey admits it’s a ton of work to put these cleanses together, but what keeps her going is seeing the transformation in her clients. She said after a week, their skin looks clearer, and they’ve gained energy and mental clarity.
“Clients say they feel so on point, all of their senses are maximized by the fourth and fifth day,” she says.
After speaking to Cherub and Rosey, my mason jar was nearly empty. But I knew I couldn’t leave without speaking to the woman behind all these fresh ingredients.
I wanted to meet Sweet Cane’s matriarch, Jackie Prell. Throughout our interview, her daughters said several times that she practices Korean natural farming. I was sure that was something my fellow gardeners in 808 Green Thumbs could benefit from, so I asked Jackie to take a break from her smoothie station to elaborate on the farming method.
“It’s culturing microorganisms that are in your locale,” she told me. “Those have adapted to become the strongest microorganisms for your specific location.”
Don’t feel like you need to break out a microscope and a Petri dish, though. Here’s a quick breakdown of the process:
1. Collect microbes in undisturbed forest areas.
2. Culture the microbes in a wooden box of rice.
3. Mix with brown sugar and store in a crock.
4. Further propagate on rice bran or wheat mill run.
5. Mix with soil and culture again.
6. Mix with compost or add to potting soil or spread on garden bed before planting.
So what’s next for Sweet Cane Cafe?
For one, they’re planning to move to a bigger location in February. The current setup has three highly coveted tables, forcing some to stand when “talking story” with drinks in hand.
All the while, the cafe continues to grow in popularity, as Jackie and her daughters pursue their mission of building a healthier community, one smoothie at a time.