The açai (pronounced “ah-sah-ee”) bowl and smoothie bar opened in May 2010, when owner Tim Richardson decided to redesign the extra 1,000 square feet that the bike shop wasn’t using.
“We wanted to come up with something that would complement the business,” Richardson says. With that goal in mind, Richardson — a vegetarian for over 20 years — based the menu off of smoothies he had been creating at home.
A mixture of açai pulp, organic fruits, blending liquids like almond milk and apple juice, and toppings like granola and dark chocolate, the bowls are loaded with antioxidants — even more than “super fruits” wild blueberry and pomegranate; omegas, which are normally found only in meat-based foods; and cholesterol — the good kind, that is. “When I started eating açai on a regular basis, I felt like my brain was functioning better,” Richardson says. The açai berries, which grow in the tops of palm trees along river banks in the Brazilian rainforest, are packed with protein and dietary fiber.
Introducing new customers to the açai craze is what Richardson calls “an educational process.” He presents his creations to unsure customers as a kind of ice cream, and when he explains the slew of health benefits, they love it even more. “It’s really a thick-blended smoothie that’s more of a spoon thing than a straw thing,” Richardson explains.
The fruits are from a Pennsylvania distribution center called The Program, which specializes in vine-ripened, flash-frozen fruit. According to Richardson, these fruits are “fresher and more nutritious than fresh fruit.”
When fruit is plucked prematurely, like much of the produce found at the supermarket, only about 25 percent of its nutritional value has developed. By allowing fruit to live on the vine for a longer period of time, however, both nutrients and flavor have time to grow to their full potential. The fruit is then frozen within four to 12 hours, capturing and preserving all its goodness.
PULP offers four bowls, plus the option for customers to build their own creation. A customer favorite is the “Short Mountain,” which is a blend of bananas, blueberries, almond butter, coconut milk, and granola. At 500-700 calories, the açai bowls are a healthy substitute for lunch or dinner. The shop also offers organic teas from China and whole-leaf teas.
With just two years of business under its belt, PULP already enjoys a “steady stream” of customers. On some mornings, Richardson explains, customers are waiting at the door before the shop opens.
When he’s not blending away behind the bar, Richardson, a ’94 JMU graduate and part-time kinesiology professor, spends his time either riding his bike or at home with his dog, a blue heeler named Ruby.
Laura Weeks is a special columnist and event photographer for HDR for Spring 2012. She is a junior Journalism major at James Madison University.
All photos © 2012 Laura Weeks.