Q&A with Peter Hessler: Pono Potions

Pono Potions is a Hawaiian syrup company based on the island of Oʻahu specializing in naturally flavored syrups for coffee, cocktails and culinary creations. Founded in 2019 by Peter Hessler, Pono Potions partners with small local farms who produce fresh, sustainable and organic spices in order to create a product that tastes superior and empowers the community and economy around us.

Prior to Pono Potions, Peter worked as a cook in Portland at fine dining restaurants including under Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” runner-up, Gregory Gourdet. As his love for cooking developed into a love for mixology, he moved to Honolulu in 2016 and became one of the original bartenders at Moku Kitchen where he developed numerous drinks on their menu and ultimately became a front of house manager. Because of Peter’s repertoire of experience, he has the talent to create flavors that appeal to various customer segments, as well as developing new products to expand Pono Potions in the future.

We asked Peter about the inspiration behind Pono Potions, what he loves most about his work and how UH has helped him in his career.

What inspired you to start your own business?

Growing up in a family business, I always wanted to create my own business from the ground up while incorporating my love of mixology and the culinary arts. I love the idea of having creative control of my work and developing new and innovative products.

What do you love most about your work?

I love being a part of the entrepreneurial community in Hawai‘i, which has been so supportive. I also love meeting my customers at farmers markets as well as developing new recipes to go with my syrups.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of starting your own business? The most challenging?

The most rewarding part has been being able to work with my family and friend when developing my business. Winning the 2020 UH Venture competition with the help of my sister Christilei and friend Madonna was incredibly rewarding. The most challenging part has been sourcing of raw materials like glass bottles, as well as maintaining the needed cash flow to grow our business.

How has your UH education helped you in your career?

UH has helped me immensely in starting and growing my business. The mentorship I gained from PACE programs as well as the fundamentals of business in my Shidler classes made it possible for me to develop a sustainable business plan.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your day-to-day operations?

Since COVID-19, we’ve greatly changed our business model to focus on the individual consumer, rather than B2B sales. We expanded our online retail presence as well as cater to the local community every week at The Lokahi Kailua Market.

Pono Potion’s offers so many delicious syrups. Which are your favorites and what do you like to do with them?

I use Pono Potions every morning in my coffee—my favorites are the La‘ie Vanilla because we partnered with La‘ie Vanilla Company to create an amazing local vanilla syrup bursting with flavor. The Ali‘i lavender comes from Maui and really has a nice, subtle floral flavor that complements espresso wonderfully. We also have a Waialua Honey Ginger syrup that I use with whiskey and lemon juice for a delicious Pau Hana cocktail.

To learn more about Pono Potions, visit their website at https://www.ponopotions.com/ or follow them on Instagram.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni