Happy Bowls duo high on acai Astor franchise

Purple passion: An acai bowl at Happy Bowls features bananas, strawberries, peanut butter, coconut and granola atop a layer of tasty and healthy purple acai berries. You can also “build your own bowl.”

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 acai bar with “fresh flavorful food” and a “happy healthy” vibe. They each ordered the PB&J Bowl for the perfect blend of acai, almond milk and an extra scoop of peanut butter.

Little did they know the taste of that acai 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 acai (pronounced “ah-sah-ee”) taste and were determined to recreate the experience at home. Browsing the Happy Bowls Web site 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 the first Happy Bowls franchise — in the East Village, at 61 Fourth Ave., between E. Ninth and 10th Sts., near Astor Place — bringing their love for acai to the public. (There are also several Happy Bowls located in 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.

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

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 acai bar, providing New Yorkers with a getaway that features bright colors and a beachy feel.

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.”

Grace Figueroa, left, and Amber Kulak a.k.a. Gramber are the team behind the new East Village Happy Bowls.

In addition to nine acai 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 adding toppings.

And the entrepreneurial pair hope to keep building up their business.

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

Happy Bowls is open weekdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and weekends, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For information, visit HappyBowls.com or call 917-261-6081.

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