Small Berry, Small Store, Huge Flavor

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One of Ubatuba's acai bowls garnished with toppings. Photo credit: Donna Lugo

Donna Lugo

There is a hidden food gem currently nestled inconspicuously in a carwash just steps away from campus. It is Ubatuba Acai Bowls, and if you walk by fast enough, you’ll miss it.

It is a shack with two windows and an iPad as a register. This pint-sized location currently has five employees and cites “lack of storage” as the biggest draw back of the tight work space.

Acai is a super berry that is native to South America. Some studies have shown that acai pulp is even more antioxidant packed than blackberries, strawberries, raspberries or blueberries.

The store’s manager, CSUN junior and urban planning major, Ashley Gomez, recalls the early days in attempts to generate more business, Ubatuba would hold sampling events at places like 24-Hour Fitness or Crunch gym, in addition to the usual online presence and word of mouth.

“I’d sit here for hours alone without any human contact until I would have to go out there and get people’s attention to try us out,” Gomez said.

But after enough positive feedback and a strong following of mostly high school and CSUN students, Ubatuba has a steady flow of regulars.

“My daughter and I both practice jujitsu and someone there told us about this place because it’s a Brazilian thing, so we come here a couple times a week,” said Roger Palmero who was sharing a “California Bowl”, which is acai topped with bananas, strawberries, granola, and a drizzle of honey, with his daughter, Kierra.

The chain’s owner, Daniella Demetrio, is from Ubatuba, a beachside town in Brazil’s São Paulo state, and upon arriving to the U.S., decided to bring a taste of her homeland to Southern California.

Ubatuba currently has four other locations (all of which are “normal sized”, Gomez explains) such as Koreatown, Tarzana, and their newest store in Thousand Oaks that opened this summer.

The menu for the acai bowl shop. Photo credit: Donna Lugo
The menu for the acai bowl shop. Photo credit: Donna Lugo

The store also includes a board that has employee recipe suggestions to try, such as “Heather’s Energy Boost”, a mix of granola, mango, bee pollen, and hemp seed. However, if acai isn’t your thing, the menu has other offerings such as a variety of empanada flavors like beef, chicken, vegetable, or Nutella and other Brazilian offerings like Pao de Queijo, a gluten-free cheese bread.

For the past couple of years, the popularity of acai berries and its purported health benefits have made the rounds in the health world. Such benefits include shiny hair, glowing skin, and even weight loss.

Rhoda Gutierrez stumbled upon Ubatuba like most do, after she came to have her car washed.

“At first, I was a little put off by the randomness of it, but one day I came and I had just read an article about acai nutritional benefits, so I decided to try it and I absolutely loved it. It filled me up and refreshed me, “ Gutierrez said. “I came for the carwash and stayed for the acai bowls.”