Glen Simkins was a classically trained chef working the full-service, fine-dining restaurant scene in Boston before being lured to paradise, specifically the Hawaiian island of Maui. Ever a culinary creative, Simkins became transfixed by the humble—and omnipresent—coconut. His kitchen experiments eventually yielded a coconut milk–based ice cream. Later, at the suggestion of a friend, Simkins tried making the cool treat without eggs and it turned out even better.
Nestled in an open-air hut off the scenic Hana Highway, Coconut Glen’s serves organic, vegan coconut-based ice cream in chef-inspired flavors like Avocado Mousse, Ginger Lemongrass, Pineapple Banana, and Wokstar, which features anise, tamari, pineapple crystal, and molasses. The shop turned 10 in July, and Simkins thinks Coconut Glen’s is ready for expansion—its mobile Bubble Bus is already roving the island—without sacrificing the brand’s integrity or its mission to create happiness, as Simkins puts it.
What was it like going from fine dining in Boston to vegan ice cream in Hawaii?
I had worked in the restaurant industry my entire life before switching gears and moving to Maui. There is really no comparison from a full-service, fine-dining restaurant as far as the point of sale is concerned. Making ice cream has the best of both worlds. I get to ponder, explore, and create new ice cream flavors literally weeks before I reveal them. No ticket machines to run against. No Saturday night rush. Just me, a radio, and my creativity in a laboratory type of workshop. It’s like being a chef with bankers’ hours.
What inspired you to create a vegan ice cream concept?
When I first moved to Maui from Boston in 2006, I thought a coconut was brown and hairy; I never knew how amazing it was. I started making coconut everything, chopping and selling whole coconuts at the end of my driveway. The ice cream was created then, but it didn’t start out as a vegan product. It wasn’t until a year later that I decided, from the suggestion of a friend, to make it without the egg yolks. It worked just as well, if not even better.
You’ve been spotlighted in various travel publications. Do you see more tourists than locals?
We started out primarily tourist-based, but thankfully over the years locals tried us and loved us. Most of our popularity, especially in the early years, has come through word of mouth. In fact, there is no way Coconut Glen’s would be so successful without our locals giving visitors their recommendation to visit.
What’s your personal favorite?
Well, that’s an unfair question because each of these ice creams is like my child; it’s hard to pick a favorite. Each has a memory and nostalgia for what was happening in my life when it was created. But, if I had to pick, it would be my firstborn, the Original: coconut milk ice cream with chunks of my coconut candy inside of it. It’s still by far the most popular and probably closest to my heart.