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Small business spotlight: Zachary Villanueva

Those who frequent the Honolulu or Mililani farmers market or anyone with a sweet tooth for locally made ice cream will have heard of Sage Creamery—a small-batch ice cream company that focuses on sourcing quality local ingredients and minimally processed organic dairy. Owners, partners and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa alumni Zachary Villanueva and Courtney Ro are the masterminds behind the company and their goal is to deliver happiness, one scoop at a time.

Zach, who is also a Leeward Community College alumnus, shares the inspirational story behind Sage Creamery, how his UH education has helped him along the way and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the business.

What inspired you to start your own business?

I’ve always had a passion for small-business, supporting and working for them for most of my professional life. However, the inspiration for starting Sage Creamery really comes from my brother, Daniel. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of blood cancer two years ago and passed away at the early age of 36. The experience was quite tragic but also amazing in hindsight. He was someone I looked up to because of the way he lived his life; unapologetically authentic, creative, and always striving to be a better version of himself. Those close to him, including myself, consider my brother as a modern day “Sage”, that is someone who is full of wisdom. Our company namesake is in memory of him.

What do you love most about your work?

I love a lot of things about working in ice cream. From the fact that I get to be the official “taste tester” to experimenting with new ingredients and ice cream recipes, there are so many fulfilling moments. But the thing I love the most about this line of work is knowing that we are bringing happiness to our customers. Eating ice cream and being happy are basically one in the same thing. And during these uncertain times, being able to deliver happiness through our ice cream, is what I love most about this business.

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

The most rewarding part about starting Sage has been the fact that I get to see the fruits of my labor in real-time. For the most part, it’s just been myself and my partner, Courtney Ro (also a UH alum) who have been churning the ice cream, coming up with new flavors, designing our logo, and sourcing ingredients; we’ve started this from the ground up and its rewarding that we see all of that work come to fruition daily.

What’s been the most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of starting this business has honestly been our ability to keep up with the demand. This is obviously a great problem to have! Right from the start the response from our customers have been phenomenal and we are grateful for all of it. However, being in Hawaii, certain things take longer to source than others, so planning ahead and ordering in enough time has taken some adjustment. We are getting into our groove and are continuing to increase our production and look forward to this early but welcomed challenge.

How has your UH education helped you in your career?

Receiving my education from UH has taught me so much. Being a Political Science major, you’d think that this degree would only apply to some sort of work in law or government. However, for me it fostered the awareness of my impact on the greater community and the importance of things like sustainability, sourcing local, social responsibility, etc. Those lessons are all embedded in how I’ve created and organized my business.

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

Being that we started this business at the beginning of the pandemic we avoided the traditional route of opening a brick and mortar ice cream shop and adapted by releasing 3-pack pint sets every other week over social media, offering a pick-up/delivery service. With things slowly opening up, we’ve now adjusted accordingly and are now at the Mililani and Blaisdell Farmers Markets. With more businesses adjusting to being more “grab n go” you can also find our retail pints at Diamond Head Market and Grill.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni