Smoothie bowls come to Newark
Viva Bowls opens, Playa Bowls announces Newark location
Suffering from severe allergies, Kelly Hartranft was looking for healthy, dair y-free foods to eat when she tried a smoothie bowl during a trip to California.
“It blew my mind how delicious it was,” Hartranft said.
Now, she’s one of two entrepreneurs who are working to introduce Newarkers to the smoothie bowl trend.
Two weeks ago, Hartranft and her boyfriend, Robert Peoples, opened Viva Bowls in Market East Plaza. Meanwhile, Playa Bowls, which already has several locations in New Jersey, plans to open early next year on Main Street.
Smoothie bowls typically feature “superfruits” like acai or pitaya, both native to South America. The acai or pitaya is blended with additional fruits and ingredients like almond milk or coconut water until it has a consistency a little thicker than a smoothie. That serves as the base of the bowl and is then topped with a variety of fruits, granola and other toppings like chia seeds, coconut flakes or nut butter.
Other varieties use bananas, kale or avocado as the base. Both restaurants also plan to sell oatmeal bowls, chia pudding bowls and traditional smoothies.
Popular on the West Coast, smoothie bowls only recently began making inroads on the East Coast. Playa Bowls was founded by Abby Taylor and Robert Giuliani in New Jersey in 2014.
Taylor first experienced smoothie bowls on a surfing trip to Puerto Rico and decided to bring the idea to her hometown at the Jersey Shore, she said, adding that she started small.
“It was basically like a hot dog cart in front of our apartment in Belmar,” she said.
Playa Bowls grew quickly and now has 23 locations, with another 14 planned. The Newark restaurant will be the company’s first in Delaware.
Bear resident Dustin Mushinski will run the local Playa Bowls, which will open at 134 E. Main St., formerly home of the Newark Police Department’s community policing center and, before that, SAS Cupcakes.
Mushinski, a friend of Taylor and Giuliani, said she’s been impressed with Playa Bowls and wanted to get involved with the business.
“I’ve been fascinated by them,” she said. “They’re incredible.”
She’s hoping that the proximity to the University of Delaware will bode well for Playa Bowls’ success.
“There’s a lot of brand awareness with all the students from UD who are from New Jersey,” she said.
Viva Bowls – located further from campus and a bit off the beaten path – is targeted at a broader market, said Hartranft, a Washington, D.C., native who now lives in Bear, adding that she chose Market East Plaza because it has its own parking lot.
“I know people don’t like to venture into Main Street because of the parking situation,” she said.
She hopes to eventually open additional restaurants in Wilmington and at the Delaware beaches.
While some customers are familiar with the smoothie bowl concept, others require some explanation, Hartranft said.
“Opening in Delaware, we have to educate people. What’s an acai bowl? What’s a pitaya bowl?” she said.
Both Hartranft and Mushinski said a large percentage of their customers are millennials, who tend to be health-conscious and open to tr ying new things. They do much of their marketing through social media, particularly the photo-centric Instagram, which is perfect for the colorful smoothie bowls.
“They’re the prettiest photos,” Mushinski said. “No filter needed.”
Smoothie bowls, like these ones, are sold at Viva Bowls in Market East Plaza. A second smoothie bowl shop will open soon on Main Street.
Dustin Mushinski (left) will run the Main Street location of the chain Playa Bowls, which was founded in 2014 by Abby Taylor (right).