From Umbrella Stand To Million Dollar Franchise, This Is How We Created Playa Bowls

Published by Abby Taylor on March 20, 2019

  • Graduated college. Check.
  • Worked 7 days a week at the local bar for far too long. Check.
  • Traveled to California, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Check.

Now, what?  

We’ve all been there or are about to be. Got that degree, hustled to attain the goal of traveling or moving out of mom and dad’s, finally saved the money to achieve that goal, and -- now, what?

My ‘now, what?’ was winter 2013, after I traveled extensively through all of the exotic surf towns. Despite the incredible memories made and experiences had, I was directionless. I had a BFA in Graphic Design without a design for my life.

While I was figuring it out, I would make acai bowls. I was hooked on them the moment I laid eyes on my first one in Puerto Rico. I ate them daily. I often experimented, concocting and perfecting my recipe to the point where my family and friends grew sick of them. That was when Rob suggested we start a small stand in front of the pizza shop on 8th in Belmar. I thought, that’s it. Perhaps this is my ‘now, what?’.

We asked Jimmy, the owner of the pizza shop, if we could place my stand in front of his building. We explained what our product was, and, might I add, this was 2014. As popular as the acai berry is today, not a soul on the Jersey Shore, let alone an elderly greek man, had any clue what “acai” was. To remove all confusion from his face, I let Jimmy try my product. He loved it, loved the history behind the berry, and allowed us to post up as long as we paid him rent. We bought some equipment at Costco, created a menu, and that next day in May, we were open for business. 

Driving past us on Ocean Ave, you would’ve thought we were nuts. We stole our friend’s old patio table that housed our blender, stereo, and small topping station. Various cords ran all the way up to our apartment above the pizza shop. We spent more time chasing our acai-designed umbrella down the road than anything else.

During the day, I’d work the stand, and at night I would bartend at D’Jais, the popular local bar of Belmar. I was bartending until 4 am, waking up at 8 am to work the stand, and repeat. Let’s not forget, business started off very slow. We personally handed out flyers on the beach across the street, begging customers to check out our little stand. We made adjustments every day, spending all of our time perfecting our menu and efficiencies. May and June consisted of us telling our story and explaining the history and culture of the acai berry along with its health benefits. We fought for customers and remained open and humble to learning the necessary business lessons that came our way.

Two months later, I remember waking up from my less than 4 hours of beauty sleep, threw on a bathing suit top and some jean shorts, and set up the stand like any other day. I looked up, and this time, a sea of hungry patrons made a line down the block. I put my head down, cranked the speaker, and blended my heart out with the biggest smile on my face.

Finally. My ‘now, what?’ came and wasn’t going anywhere.

People were starting to catch onto what we were doing. Customers fell in love with my travel stories, thriving on the passion I exerted when I spoke about our products. I learned early on that this has and will always be the key to a successful business. Passion and a great story to tell will always create success.

The summer ended, and we already began planning for the next. We added menu items and discovered how to properly buy our products from outside the grocery store. The next summer, we picked up right where we left off. Customers were excited to see us back in action, and we were too.

As May and June of 2015 passed, we had thoughts of opening an actual, tangible location. At the end of June that year, the man who owned the gym next door to the pizza shop approached us. He told us that the gym had never been redone since Hurricane Sandy’s destruction and asked if we were interested in taking the spot. We said yes, and the rest is history.

Before our original store became what it is today, the place itself was ROUGH. Wet carpets from Sandy and random, outdated gym equipment peppered the large space. I worried about it costing too much, but we knew we had to get it done. Friends and family thought we were crazy to take on yet another risk. Oh, and did I mention this was three weeks before the 4th of July, the busiest time of the year?

We called in contractor friends, poured in every dollar made from our little stand, and literally worked day and night to get the store open. Looking back, we set it up entirely wrong. The use of space made no sense, and the look showed our naivety, but it was ours. And, we were so proud. We passed inspection early morning of July 3rd, 2015 and opened our doors at 9 am.

The line did not stop the entire summer. We were there all day and night with minimal staff to make sure our little acai shop was the best it could be. I had created a really strong brand with our social media, logo, and slogan -- shout out to that graphic design degree.

We were and continue to lead the market, introducing something the majority of the nation had never seen before. Playa Bowls is way more than just an acai bowl -- it’s a lifestyle. We are Vans and bleached t-shirt wearing, long-haired, sun kissed playa babes and bros creating the best bowls in the game, and we can't forget that.

From Belmar we expanded to Manasquan, Long Branch and Bayhead continuing our day in and day out Playa grind. We now have 70 stores in 8 different states, including the first place I traveled to, Puerto Rico. I used to do all of the menu boards by hand along with all of the artwork in each and every store. Now, we have hired someone who does hand-drawn menu boards and mimics my style. It’s truly amazing! We have hired a CFO, VP, a director of operations, marketing strategist, and began to successfully franchise. Playa Bowls has truly evolved these past five years, and my passion for the brand and the people involved has grown along with it.

I have learned so much on this journey and want to guide you on yours. Whether you’re an aspiring or experienced business owner, looking for some health and lifestyle advice, or simply here to read a fun story, I’ve got you covered. This will be the haven to get some solid business advice and health and lifestyle education with a campfire-esque story about my travels from time to time. I hope you’re ready. It’s time for the next ‘now, what?’ to begin.

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