Sweet stop in Kona

  • Sandra and Tim traveled the world before coming to Kona and opening Gypsea Gelato. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Happy Heart Kona receives daily shipments of fresh fruit to use in a variety of recipes. (Isabel Thottam/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Isabel loves taste testing her wonderful fruit filled "pop tarts.” (Neil Bhave/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The colorful mural facing the street at Happy Heart Kona is the work of Noel Badges Pugh. (Ashton Miyako/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The new salad gelato includes goat cheese, strawberries and pecans. (Tim Heaton/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Mauka Trail remains the most popular flavor at Gypsea Gelato. (Tim Heaton/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Tim keeps close tabs on the gelato case at his Kealakekua location. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The crispy sweet palmiers from Kona Sweets are a perfect accompaniment to either coffee or gelato. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Janel uses local macnuts on many different pastries including her delicious cannoli. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Neil and Isabel are truly enjoying their new cafe, Happy Heart Kona. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Supporting local agriculture includes supporting local businesses that buy local ingredients. Three establishments in Kona are all doing just that. You can taste some of Kona’s best local produce included in some delicious recipes at a single stop. Gypsea Gelato, Kona Sweets and the new café, Happy Heart Kona, are all under a single roof at 79-7491 Mamalahoa Highway in Kainaliu.

Kona Sweets owner, Janel Panek, went to a San Francisco pastry school 20 years ago and has been a baker ever since. She has supplied discriminating Kona residents with delicious pastries and special occasion cakes out of Kona Sweets, over the last 10 years. She uses local ingredients when and where she can get them. She regularly incorporates apple bananas, local lilikoi and mangos into her pastries and cakes. She also often includes local mac nuts, white pineapple and Kona coffee in her recipes.


“I have made birthday cakes for Diana for many years, her choice was always either lilikoi or chocolate. One year she even ordered one of each,” Janel remembered.

Yes, her cakes are fabulous, but so are the pastries, which she makes daily.

You can taste her daily offerings in the front of her kitchen at Gypsea Gelato. To add some chill to your summer snacking, you might want to check out the freezer case at Gypsea Gelato. They not only carry Janel’s pastries, but they offer more than 20 different gelato flavors every day.

Gelato is a frozen dessert of Italian origin, made with rich whole milk and sugar. It is lower in fat than ice cream, has less air and more flavor. Its density and richness distinguish it from ice cream. The recipes that Gypsea owners Tim and Sandra Heaton create usually include local ingredients. Some of their combinations are ingenious. All are delicious.

Local ginger, turmeric, lemon grass and a special mint grown by Steve Mann at Old Ways Farm in South Kona supply some of the flavor bases. George from Kona Kahili Farm drops off apple bananas from his farm every week and several farmers drop by with fresh ginger root regularly. Other local farmers supply golden glow mangos, white pineapples, lemons, limes, oranges, dragon fruit, lychees and Kona coffee. All these go into gelatos or sorbets. Big Island milk at the rate of about 1,000 gallons per month provides a base for most of their recipes. Ingredients are combined locally in their gelato production facility in the Shojin building, across the street from their shop.

Though they started out across the highway in Mango Court in 2014, after purchasing equipment from Gio’s Gelato, Gypsea Gelato has since have expanded its locations as well as its offerings. Gypsea Gelato opened a shop on Ali’i Drive in Coconut Grove in 2017 and moved to their larger space in Kainaliu in 2019. Expanding their locations also enabled them to create new flavors.

“We create recipes based on what farmers bring us,” Sandra offered.

Tim agreed saying farmers often drop by with produce to sell.

My favorite gelato is Tom Kha that uses ginger, lemongrass, coconut and turmeric. They also make a London Fog gelato that incorporates Earl Grey flavoring into a vanilla base. A new flavor called Salad is just that and includes goat cheese, strawberries and pecans topped with a balsamic glaze.

The recipe duo both received training in premier gelato making from Gelato University Carpigiani where they studied with Gelato Master and current Gelato Ambassador to the U.S., Gianluigi Dellaccio. Tim and Sandra both delight in the process of creating new recipes but also enjoy tweaking tried and true flavors.

“We love to work with chocolate and are delighted that Mauka Trail remains our most popular flavor.”

This recipe incorporates coffee, chocolate and mac nuts into a gelato topped with a chocolate drizzle. This combination continues to be a Kona crowd pleaser.

When asked what inspired the name Gypsea, Tim reported on their search for the right name. The search ended on one of their commercial fishing trips in Canada. Since they had always considered themselves travelers, when they saw a fishing boat named Gypsea, they knew they had the name for their new gelato shop in Kona.

Happy Heart Kona is a new addition to the address. Isabel Thottam and Neil Bhave also base their recipes on ingredients supplied by local farmers and distributors.

The pair met in Kona three years ago. They fell in love with each other and with Kona and have been here full-time for more than a year. They share East Indian ancestry as well as health issues that inspired them to focus on healthier eating habits.

Seeing improvements in their health motivated them to share some of their favorite foods. They decided to open a booth at the Pure Kona Green Market offering vegan pop tarts, with a gluten free option, incorporating delicious fresh fruit like mangos and lilikoi. Neil also came up with a gluten free granola recipe that was a popular breakfast item at the market.

“Food is part of my culture. I was brought up in a family of cooks. My Indian dad and American mom both made wonderful food using great recipes,” Isabel reports.

Many of these recipes have inspired those she uses in the café for her breakfast and lunch offerings. The spices included in her Mexican-Indian Burrito definitely can be traced back to the flavors she enjoyed as a child.

Isabel’s pop tarts have brought many of her market fans to the café. Neil still makes his delicious granola that is served at the café all day with fresh fruit and oat milk. Their offerings of vegan meals and gluten free choices has created a lot of support from the community.

Naming their café “Happy Heart” has a dual meaning for the pair.

“Of course, our recipes are heart friendly, but also opening the café, opened my heart.” Neil remarked.

He reported that they wanted to have a place where the community could gather, mingle and share food. The menu as well as the place they have created makes his heart happy and he hopes that joyful feeling is contagious.

Not only the food, but also the décor adds to the joy. Colorful murals, tables and walls were painted by several different local artists including Noel Badges Pugh, Kerry Green, Siena Baldi, Katie Lynn, Naia Elle and Betty Moon Studios”. The vibrant art definitely adds flavor to the café as well as to the food they serve.

The owners of these three businesses all agree to offer different delicious products in a healthy environment using as many organic and local ingredients as possible. They enjoy working together and find customers who enjoy combining coffee and pastry with a café meal and leaving with a cone of gelato and a piece of Janel’s lilikoi cheesecake. That is a joyful day.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living part time in Kailua-Kona.

Gardening Events

Every Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Come with a mask and be prepared to practice social distancing. Volunteers can help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at (808) 323-3318 for more information.

Save the dates: Oct. 8-9 – Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Conference on “Mango Makers and Food Preservers” at the Maui County Business Resource Center. Virtual and in person. Mini-sessions and tours Oct. 10 to 14 in Molokai, Oahu, Kauai, Hilo and Kona. More information, registration forms and fee schedule are available at www.htfg.org or by contacting Ken Love at kenlove@hawaiiantel.net or Mark Suiso at mark.suiso@gmail.com

Farmer Direct Markets (check websites for the latest hours and online markets)

Wednesday: “Ho’oulu Farmers Market” at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay

Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

Information on their online market at keauhoufarmersmThursarket.com/onlinemarket

“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” 7:30 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables

“Waimea Town Market” 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea

“Waimea Homestead Farmers Market” from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Waimea middle and elementary school playground Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

“Hamakua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honoka’a


Plant Advice Lines

Anytime: konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu; Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu at (808) 322-4893.

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