CLINTON — It’s a “whole meal” in a bowl and it’s filled with nutritious ingredients that aren’t very commonly found in central New York.
When 21-year-old Jenna Stanton started her Soul Bowl business last June as a booth featured at Clinton Farmers’ Market and other area markets, she wanted to offer the region something that wasn’t just healthy, but really couldn’t be found anywhere around. So after much research and flavor experimentation, Stanton created recipes for bowls featuring acai and dragon fruit.
Pronounced “ah-sah-ee” according to a sign located under a pictured list of available toppings for Soul Bowls at Stanton’s new cafe located at 3 Kirkland Ave., Suite 101, the “berry” comes from trees that grow in the Amazon rain forests of Central and South America.
“It’s a big educational movement here” at the cafe, Stanton laughed. “We’re the first in the area to sell acai, so we teach almost everyone who walks through the door what it is.”
Known in South America as “purple gold,” Stanton described the flavor as a “mix of blueberry and blackberry, with a hint of dark chocolate, and some say a fruity wine. It has a rich, deep flavor.”
Although it’s commonly called a “berry,” acai is actually a drupe, or a fruit with a pit or seed inside. There are few state-side suppliers of acai, which is usually shipped in a powdered form, juice, or ground up into a paste or puree. Stanton said she orders her supply of acai from a vendor located on the West Coast.
Acai “has to be frozen within 24 hours” of being cultivated and processed before shipment, Stanton said. “It’s considered almost like a delicacy here (in the U.S.). I talked to people who had been to Brazil and in every shop that I’ve visited that serves acai,” throughout the U.S., “they call it ‘purple gold.’”
In addition to being rich in antioxidants, acai is also loaded with healthy fats, nutrients and fiber, and experts said it’s known to benefit brain, heart and overall health. Stanton said a small Soul Bowl with acai can keep a customer full and energized for at least three hours, while a large bowl will satisfy for up to 4-5 hours.
“There’s no processed ingredients or sugars” in Soul Bowls, Stanton said. “There’s only refined sugars in the bowls that feature Nutella.”
As well as acai, Soul Bowl now features Pitaya, which is more commonly known as dragon fruit. Due to its vital nutrients, the Pitaya fruit is suitable for all diets as it supplements fiber. Similarly, people who have high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity have attested to the fruit’s benefits, according to nutrition experts.
When Stanton started her business, she kept her own dietary needs in mind.
“I can’t eat dairy, so that really limits what I can order, which is why when I go to most restaurants, I end up having to order pasta with red sauce,” the business owner said. “So I wanted to serve foods that I can actually have. And my bowls aren’t dessert. They’re breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack. They taste sweet like a dessert, but they’re actually a meal.”
Stanton said, “If customers come in and ask about acai or what we offer, we’re happy to explain, and we also offer an explanation on our website. We cater to all allergies and we’re vegan and gluten free. We even have a nutritionist here, Jeannine Burrows, who can answer questions.”
A graduate of Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School, Stanton attended college for two years but said she couldn’t decide on a major. She intended to take a break for a semester when she decided in the spring to try and open a booth at the Clinton Farmers’ Market. Despite the waiting list, Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce members allowed her to come on in. Never even taking a marketing class, Stanton said she derived her own recipes and learned how to promote her business online and on social media.
“I showed them (chamber members) pictures of the product and they said, ‘You’re in — it’s so different and there’s nothing like it around,’” Stanton recalled. “Within about two weeks, everyone was coming up and saying they liked the bowls and, ‘Where’s your storefront? You should have your own store.’”
In early August it just so happened that Suite 101 at 3 Kirkland Ave. became available and with an investment from her savings, support from mom Suzanne and money made at her farmers’ market locations in Clinton, Hamilton and Cazenovia, Stanton opened her first shop, making her dream into a reality. She celebrated the official grand opening of Soul Bowl on Nov. 14.
Wanting to bring some “sunshine,” especially during the gloomy dead of winter in central New York, Stanton decided on a tropical theme for her cafe, with yellow walls and bright, inviting decor. Even the names of her acai, pitaya, banana, coconut and green bowls take on an island flavor, like the popular Coco Cabana, as well as her smoothies, toast and oatmeal bowls.
“I tried to go ‘beachy’ or tropical...when customers come in I want them to feel happy and light,” she said.
Soul Bowl also brings back a local staple, Finger Lakes Coffee, a brand of local flavors once served at Cafe J, the former coffee shop at 1 W. Park Row once owned by Stanton’s mother.
“We brought back Finger Lakes Coffee because a lot of people here seemed to miss it,” Stanton said.
Stanton’s mother Suzanne, who collaborated with her daughter to open Soul Bowl, said she is impressed with the passion Jenna has for her business.
“I’m just so proud of her — she’s fabulous,” Suzanne said of her daughter. “This was all an idea she came up with, she worked hard and did all the research and she’s just like lightning — her mind if firing all the time with new ideas.”
Although Stanton said she plans to eventually return to school and knows that she will now pursue a degree in business, she intends, for the meantime, to continue growing her own business and customer base.
“We get a lot of Hamilton College students, but customers are varied,” Stanton said. “We have 5-year-olds to 90-year-olds, with even little kids coming in and asking for dragon fruit. Last Saturday we had a line out of the shop and we’ve even had people wait in their cars in the parking lot to come in.”
And Stanton said customers should stay tuned for what’s in store for 2019.
“We have a lot under wraps, and we have some new things coming out shortly,” she smiled.
To learn more, go to www.soulbowlny.com.