Restaurant Review: Ono Gelato (Paia) Disaster

Looks like gelato. Feels like poison.


Tonight I had a disaster at Ono Gelato in Paia. I had just heard about the new gluten free cone offerings at Ono Gelto online a few months ago, and I even looked them up on Facebook before going tonight, so I figured that they were learning. Well, I found out that while the three Ono Gelato locations on Maui are all the same company, they are not the same owners. So, while one location may be figuring out the need for gluten free products and gluten free safety, other locations are not.

That’s where tonight comes in. I am writing through my quickly developing brain fog to warn others. I read the ingredients sign under the “Sandy Beach” flavor and didn’t see anything that would be harmful to me. I saw, “Peanut butter, coconut candy, macadamia nuts and sea salt.” Those are all naturally gluten free ingredients. I even asked the server about the gluten free cones, and that’s when I found out about the franchised nature of the company. The Paia location does not carry the gluten free cones, and the employees had no clue about them. However, I wasn’t too scared as I’d had a great milkshake there only a few days before. Still, the server didn’t warn me to not eat the “Sandy Beach” flavor after I asked about the gluten free cones. It makes sense to me to ask a customer, who is inquiring about gluten free products, if they are gluten free before serving them something that is not gluten free.

When I got home I felt my stomach twitch. I knew something was wrong. My dinner had already been in my body for hours without trouble. So, I knew it had to be the gelato I had just before coming home. It was. I called up and asked for the ingredients. One ingredient stood out, “graham crackers.” Graham Crackers! Are you kidding me?! How could those not be listed on the sign? I made the girl who served me look. At first she swore it was on the sign, but upon inspection she noted that it was not. I said that it should be there as it is a common allergen for people, and that I was now sick because of it. I did state that I should have asked before ordering, but I really don’t think I should have to since the other ingredients were listed. If a restaurant is going to list a few of the ingredients then they should list them all. They especially should not omit common allergens. The server, on the phone, didn’t seem to care. She said she’d tell the owners my comments. I could tell by her tone that she has no intention of doing so. Had she responded without the bad attitude I might not have felt the need to write any of this.

This was my special treat for making an A on a final paper at school. This was something I looked forward to all day. Now I’m sick. Now I get to have brain fog. Now I get to have stomach pains and possible bathroom trips through the night. Now writing my other paper for school is going to be extra tasking because my brain won’t be thinking clearly. Now Devin has to take care of me. Now he is sad. Dammit. Yes, I am actually crying over this. Why? Because it feels so wrong. It ruined my special occasion. It’s upset Devin. It’s turned our fun night out into something else.

This isn’t just a little deal. This is a big deal! What if I had gone into shock? When people with gluten get sick it seems like nobody cares. When someone with a shellfish allergy has a reaction everyone cares. Their reaction may seem more immediate, but my body is also being harmed. Gluten contact can actually give me CANCER. Think about the times that you’ve had food poisoning, or seen someone with food poisoning. That sucks doesn’t it? Well, that’s what it’s like for me. This is like adding  cyanide, arsenic, or rat poison to my food. I can’t even have a little. This isn’t a fad. 

Please note: This is in regard to Ono Gelato’s Paia location only. I recently visited the Lahaina location where the staff was well educated and concerned about the well being of all of their customers. Please check the comments section of this post for a response from the Lahaina store owner where she reiterates this awareness.

21 thoughts on “Restaurant Review: Ono Gelato (Paia) Disaster”

  1. Hi Amanda,
    I just came across your post today- the pit of my stomach dropped out when I read what happened to you. On behalf of Ono Gelato I am so, so, sorry! The 3 stores are owned and operated separately, and your story highlights the problems associated with this type of operating agreement. I will speak with the other stores and reiterate how important food allergies are- In Lahaina we certainly take them seriously. If you’re in Lahaina, I would love to offer you a gelato on the house, (a gluten free one). Sincerely, Melissa Mosi Owner, Ono Gelato Lahaina

    1. Melissa, thank you for commenting. I am sorry that it happened as well, and I do now realize that the stores operate separately. I will go back in and put in a disclaimer that really gets that point across. I stopped by your location a couple months ago and an employee there was very kind and assured me of the safety of that location. I didn’t purchase gelato that day, but I am glad to know you all are educated and concerned about the health and well-being of your customers. Mahalo.

    2. Well done Melissa!
      I too have Celiac and it’s very difficult navigating foods on Maui. I look forward to stopping by your Lahaina store very soon.

  2. Currently sitting in paia disappointed to have missed out on my Ono gelato as it contained dextrose and stumbled across this! How disappointing for you. I’m finding it hard as I was diagnosed coeliac a week before we came to Hawaii (from Australia) so I’m not used to asking a million questions just to get a safe icecream!!!! Oh and I’m that person with a shellfish allergy too, so imagine the questions I’m asking just to get a meal (so far I haven’t had to use my epipen!!!)

    1. It seems like that particular location has a lot of issues to overcome to serve gluten free customers safely. However, speaking with the staff at the location in Lahaina I’d feel more comfortable trying them out. Still, if you can’t have dextrose (I didn’t know that was in there), it’s still something to steer clear of. The best bet for you is to eat foods that are naturally safe for you, and to keep asking questions. Always call a manager over, or speak with the chef directly. There are some great dining cards you can print for free online (if your hotel/condo/time share has a printer).

  3. Hi Amanda, i always ask a ton of questions when i eat anywhere (im sure they get annoyed…oh well!) Sorry u got sick. Dont be afraid to ask for a complete list of ingredients! I just wrote a blog entry about a convo i had recently with a restaurant manager about this topic.

    This might help u to understand restaurant staff behavior a little better. Hang in there, we’ve all been there! Nikki, celiac and type 1 diabetic.

    1. Mahalo Nikki. I appreciate your comments. Even after being gluten free for four years I am still learning how to make my way safely through this world. It takes time, but I’m sure I’ll get it right eventually!

  4. I am so sorry this happened! That is horrible! You hit the nail on the head, this is no fad, this is life and it can be life or death. My daughter has Celiac disease and I know firsthand how people can make light of her dietary restrictions. We need more people like you who are not afraid to educate people on this condition. And perhaps less people like the gelato employee who are not willing to make a small effort to help a large number of people safely enjoy a frozen treat. Boo.

  5. Poor thing!! I was thinking of you when I went on a boat trip last we and noticed two girls asking for gluten free option. Although the boat had provided a vegetarian pasta options, there was nothing that accommodated gluten-free diets other than the chicken that they thought was fine. It seems that they are more people that have dietary allergens that restaurants should be aware of. Whether nuts or gluten, allergies should be (at least) equally taken into consideration to people’s personal diets choices (like vegans or whatever).

    1. Yes, food allergies and intolerances are often scoffed at, whereas restaurants choose to include special dietary options for vegetarians and vegans. I’m not saying they shouldn’t offer those, but I am saying that they should be prepared to serve other customers. If they’re not willing, or able to do so then they need to state that. Maui Tacos took their gluten free labeling off of their website because they realized they really could not serve gluten free customers. For the girls on the boat, I wonder if they tried to inform the staff before they set sail. Because it is not a fully stocked restaurant it would make sense for them to do that. However, any restaurant setting should be able to, safely, provide some option. However, I know that many chefs don’t even known the basic ingredients of some of the prepared “ingredients” they use.

  6. It is the “halfway gluten free” restaurants that have begun to drive me crazy. It is one thing to offer GF food on the menu. That’s awesome & makes me very happy. Happy until I discover that they haven’t trained their staff at all and sometimes even the chefs are clueless. I do try to ask questions, but if the staff doesn’t know then I really don’t feel confident in them. I hate it when I ask them about gluten free options & then they bring me a salad with croutons on it because they didn’t realize bread had gluten in it (or that croutons are made from bread–some seem that clueless). My favorite was when I asked if they had GF bread, with no wheat & he said “we have white bread.” OY to the Vey. Even if the label was a flavor description rather than ingredient list, graham crackers seems like an important element to making it a “sandy” beach, so it should be on there. I hope you’re able to locate the franchise owner and write a letter or send an email directly. That’s the only way they’ll learn and/or change their policies.

    1. Gluten free labeling without gluten free training or food preparation is dangerous. I had a salad come to me with croutons at a chain restaurant on the mainland, one that had been certified by one of the gluten free restaurant programs. Graham crackers do seem like an important element to list, even in just a flavor description. I assumed the “sandy” element came from the macadamia nuts as those were listed.

  7. Sorry this happened to you Amanda. This is a reminder to all of us that the price of staying healthy is constant vigulance. These experiences help educate those with gluten issues along with those in the food service industry. Nobodys fault, love to all.

    1. You’re right, we must remain ever vigilant. Especially since so many restaurants/food producers take gluten free labeling so lightly.

  8. Wow, Amanda, what a horrible experience! I’m sorry you’re special occasion was ruined by gluten, that’s always the worst time! My birthday dinner was ruined this year, too, and just because I made the mistake of assuming corn was just corn…

    1. Oh! To have your birthday ruined is awful. I had my Christmas party ruined last year by something. I still don’t know what it was. Hopefully your birthday this year will be better!

  9. I think Pam missed the point. Amanda clearly took the responsibility. She is upset with the lack of caring on the part of the server and person who took the call. If people think it’s a fad or popular idea and not an actual health concern the situation won’t change. Thanks to Amanda I will know when my daughter visits to show extra care at Ono Gelato in Paia or more probably not go there.

  10. I agree that if a restaurant is going to list some ingredients, they should list them all. It still amazes me how little food service people are educated on food allergies/sensitivities; and how those of us with gluten issues are taken lightly because media still portrays it as a fad. I hope you get better soon and that you get your paper done without too much brain fog struggles.

    1. I was able to complete my paper, but there was always that chance that the brain fog would have prevented me from doing as well on it as I wanted. I too believe that if restaurants are going to list ingredients they should list all of them, or at least the top allergens (including gluten). We are taken less seriously than many other people when it comes to allergies/intolerances/special diets.

  11. By the way, what you assumed was an ingredient list sounds to us like a description of the flavor. Hope you feel better soon.

  12. While I am empathetic to your pain, what Celiac leaves such a thing to chance? My husband was diagnosed 14 years ago, back when few even knew what Celiac disease was. Neither one of us would presume that a minimum wage counter worker in an ice cream shop would, or should, extrapolate the request for a GF cone into analyzing the possible ingredients in a gelato flavor. It is your job to insure your food safety, to ask a million questions if need be, and to either ask for an ingredient LIST or stick to simple flavors that are easier to presume are GF. It is time consuming, but it is no one else’s responsibility to make sure your aren’t contaminated. Being contaminated AFTER asking a million questions, or after having been assured something is GF is a different story altogether , but your failure to investigate is naive.

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