Chelsea Duo’s Happy Bowls Franchise Brings Açaí to Astor

An açaí bowl at Happy Bowls features bananas, strawberries, peanut butter, coconut and granola atop a layer of tasty and healthy purple açaí berries. You can also “build your own bowl.” | Photo courtesy Happy Bowls

BY ELANA DURE | For Grace Figueroa and Amber Kulak, it all started with a Labor Day trip to the Hamptons.

The friends had traveled the two-to-three-hour journey to Kulak’s summer place for a relaxing vacation weekend. Taking friends’ advice, the women decided to dine at Happy Bowls in Montauk, a unique açaí bar with “fresh flavorful food” and a “happy healthy” vibe. They each ordered the PB&J Bowl for the perfect blend of açaí (a berrylike fruit), almond milk and an extra scoop of peanut butter.

Little did they know the taste of that açaí bowl would mark the start of their next adventure together.

Back at their Chelsea apartment, the two roommates couldn’t get Happy Bowls out of their minds. They wanted more of the açaí (pronounced “ah-sah-EE”) taste and were determined to recreate the experience at home. Browsing the Happy Bowls website for recipe ideas, Kulak found the chain’s franchise opportunity.

After much thought and discussion, the pair decided to start a Happy Bowls location of their own. On Sept. 15 of last year, Figueroa and Kulak opened the doors to their Happy Bowls franchise — in the East Village — bringing their love for açaí to the public. (another Happy Bowls is located in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.)

“It’s just been a crazy rollercoaster and it’s like, ‘Wow, now we’re here,’ ” said Figueroa, who manages the restaurant’s daily operations.

The roommates, who both worked as accountants, spent the past year collaborating with the company’s owners to open the New York City location. From leases to trash pickups to Department of Health inspections, the women said there was a lot they learned along the way.

“We actually said we should write a ‘Franchise for Dummies in New York City’ because there are so many things you don’t realize that come with it,” said Kulak, who is responsible for what goes on behind the scenes.

Now, after much hard work and determination, their 1,700-square-foot, 35-person-capacity space offers the right atmosphere for a healthy and natural açaí bar, providing New Yorkers with a getaway that features bright colors and a beach-like feel.

L to R: Grace Figueroa and Amber Kulak, whose franchise brought the Happy Bowls story full circle. | Photo courtesy Happy Bowls

And while their spot still sports the signature Happy Bowls vibe, Figueroa and Kulak added personal touches to make the location their own. The menu hosts three unique additions, including The Gramber Bowl, a strawberry and banana blend named for its creators, Grace and Amber.

“When we started thinking about the business and whatnot, we wanted to make sure that it was a representation of the both of us,” Figueroa said. “That’s also how The Gramber Bowl was born. We combined the things that we loved and we created a bowl.”

In addition to nine açaí bowls, the menu offers build-your-own bowls, oatmeal bowls, poké bowls, smoothies, fresh-squeezed juices and coffee.

Their signature bowls range from $9.25 to $10.95, or you can “build your own bowl,” starting from $8.25, and add toppings.

Figueroa and Kulak like to joke that their shop brought the Happy Bowls story full circle. The roommates explained that the company’s founding couple consists of a New Yorker and a Puerto Rican, just the same as them (well, technically, New Yorker Kulak is from Massachusetts).

“The story is repeating itself,” Figueroa said. “It’s both of us at all times, holding each other’s hands and just making it happen,” Figueroa said.

Happy Bowls is located at 61 Fourth Ave. (btw. E. Ninth & 10th Sts., near Astor Place). Hours are weekdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and weekends, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit or call 917-261-6081.

Smooth move: You’ll find an assortment of fruit smoothies at Happy Bowls. | Photo courtesy Happy Bowls

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