Written by Shanna Fujii | Photography by Jenica Maes
The name “Lady La” strikes a familiar chord among daily commuters in the Valley. La, most notoriously known for her radio personality name “Lady La” and her cool and collected demeanor, finds herself exceptionally busy these days.
In addition to being a radio host on 104.7 KISS FM, La has recently dived head first into the food industry and added ‘owner and operator’ to her resume. In 2017, La left her job of 11 years to breathe life into one of her greatest ideas yet. That idea? Mahalo Made.
The iconic shave ice airstream trailer can be seen rolling around the city offering Phoenicians a little taste of Japanese kine shave ice, a delicious blend of both the traditional Japanese kakigori and the artisanal style of shave ice rooted in Hawaii. Read about the origin of Mahalo Made, La’s tireless journey to get to where she currently is, and how you can get your own cup of shave ice heaven.
Tell us a little about your background.
I am an Arizona native, ASU business student maverick, with Filipino and Mexican roots. I grew up in a blended family involving my stepmother of 30 years who is Okinawan.
In 2017, I started Mahalo Made, a brand focused on the idea that gratitude changes everything. Mahalo Made is apparel and a shave ice airstream trailer in Phoenix. I wanted to create an experience for shave ice here because I grew up with it visiting family in Hawaii.
Is there a story behind the name?
"Mahalo" is a Hawaiian phrase used to express gratitude. The closest phrase we have in English is "thank you," but it goes deeper than that. I owe so much of my upbringing to Hawaiian culture and influence because my parents grew up there. I am literally Mahalo Made. Everything I am, I owe to someone who came before me. So it’s a way to share the mindset that gratitude changes everything.
What makes Mahalo Made unique?
I make all of our syrup and ice cream from scratch. We use organic dairy, organic cane sugar, and organic fruit. We only offer one size that is meant for two to share. But most people want their own because it’s so delicious!
What shave ice flavors do you have?
Our regular menu includes: mango, strawberry, guava, and blueberry. Two new regular items will be added in 2019. We also have one featured flavor that is special every time we open.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome when opening Mahalo Made?
Everything was an obstacle. I left my full-time career of 11 years to pursue this idea. I went from a desk job, to working in AZ summers building something I wasn’t sure Phoenix would “get”— and I bet my entire livelihood on it with no backup plan. That was a very hard decision to make.
I drove across the country for the very first time to buy the airstream trailer in Savannah, GA. Hauling a 1966 trailer that was falling apart back across the country to Phoenix was a real feat. The work had only just begun because my boyfriend and I remodeled and built the entire trailer with our hands.
We missed multiple deadlines to complete the build out, but once we were finally set to debut at the Phoenix Night Market, en route to the event, a vehicle lost control and slammed into the car I was riding in. I was the only person injured, but I pushed through and worked that entire weekend. I was later diagnosed with a major concussion and am still receiving treatment for that injury today.
Do you think your recognition as an Arizona public figure has helped Mahalo Made?
A fan base helps. But let’s be honest, there are more famous people on Instagram who dress their pet than listen to me on the radio. I do believe sharing the journey on social media—going back and forth from Home Depot building the airstream and why I had left radio to pursue this—created an interest.
Mahalo Made isn’t even a year old. There is a lot to figure out. While I am extremely grateful for the support, I am hesitant to accept any label of “success.” I have a lot to prove to myself as a business owner and operator.
How has the community responded to Mahalo Made? How has the community helped your growth?
The community is why we exist. I appreciate people understanding our vibe. They bring picnic chairs and wait in line hours before we open. They don’t complain, enjoy the aloha music, talk story with one another, and end up making new friends.
All of the support from my family and friends has really been so special. Mahalo, everyone. This support helped us gain a partnership with ABC Nissan in Phoenix. We now have a Mahalo Made Nissan Titan XD that will be used to tow the trailer and give back to the community every month. I am calling it Mahalo Missions.
Is there a vision you hope to achieve with Mahalo Made?
I want Mahalo Made to go where it leads me. Not the other way around. The goal is to give people comfort in t-shirts, in memories, in flavor, and experience. God willing, that lasts for a while.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned throughout this journey?
That I am capable. I now know I can walk away from money and notoriety, into the unknown. I can bet on myself, be terrified, and not only survive, but flourish.
If people want to try Mahalo Made, where can they find you?
You can follow us on Instagram at @mahalomadeit. Time & locations are posted there, as well as our latest apparel releases. Everything is in limited supply. We hope you join us. Mahalo.