Alumni Feature: Sage Creamery a sweet success

Courtney Ro and her husband, Zachary Villanueva, opened Sage in 2020.
Courtney Ro and her husband, Zachary Villanueva, opened Sage in 2020.

By Dani Douglass

When Courtney Ro, BBA ‘12, was a student at Shidler studying management and accounting, she was busy preparing herself for her post-college path, which would include her first job out of college at Ernst and Young and then running her own bookkeeping business in 2017. She couldn’t have imagined it at the time, but the flexibility of setting her own schedule would allow her to help her husband, Zachary Villanueva, also a UH Mānoa alumnus (BA ‘15), sell handcrafted ice cream while he was still working a full-time job. Now the pair operate Sage Creamery, scooping out flavors like strawberry fields, kiawe honey lavender and haulolo.

“We started the business in 2020 in honor of my husband’s late brother, who passed away from cancer in 2018 at the age of 36 and was an inspiring entrepreneur,” she said. “Our brand was created in his image of simplicity and authenticity. We source organic and locally-made ingredients whenever possible.” 

Ro says the business has received tremendous community support and encouragement. In a short two years, the company has evolved from selling pints on Instagram, to a food truck and now to the first brick and mortar location, opening this year in West O‘ahu’s new Ho‘opili neighborhood. 

Ro sees being in business with her spouse as dynamic. “Being a first-time business owner with your partner is inherently challenging and rewarding,” she said. “As much as we deal with the same things many in the industry are facing, the most difficult part can be navigating both the relationship and business partnership. It’s our biggest advantage and challenge.”

When she thinks back to her experiences at Shidler, Ro fondly reflects on setting the foundation for her career trajectory. She says that her fondest memories include her involvement in Beta Alpha Psi, which allowed her to bond with classmates and business professionals while making friendships and building her network. 

Ro has some sage advice to current students and recent alums. “Stay open and be like a sponge and trust that every situation you find yourself in has a lesson and opportunity for growth,” she said. “If you keep an open attitude in each step, you’ll find yourself exactly where you need to be in the end.”