Two years ago, Joe Ferderbar and Brock Snider were on the lookout for a new business to start together.
That’s when each took a vacation — one on the East Coast and one on the West — and came back with the same idea.
While in San Francisco, Ferderbar tried acai (ah-sigh-ee) bowls for the first time.
“I thought, ‘These are amazing,’ ” Ferderbar, of Manheim Township, says. “I was talking to my wife about how this was exactly the type of thing we thought would take off in Lancaster, and would really be embraced. Good-tasting food, good for you. And visually, it’s a nice-looking thing.”
Not long after, Snider, of Willow Street, was at the shore in Belmar, New Jersey, when friends talked him into waiting in a half-hour line for an acai bowl.
He liked it so much that he again waited for a bowl the next day and noticed how long the line was down the boardwalk.
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘I have to go back and tell Joe,’?” Snider says. “We were walking on King Street, and I said, ‘I have to tell you about this great business idea. Have you ever heard about these things called acai bowls?’ ”
Of course he had.
The two men worked on the idea over a two-year period, trying to find a solid supplier for the acai berry sorbet that’s the basis of their bowls.
At the Celebrate Lancaster event on June 29, they launched Oola Bowls, their acai-bowl business consisting of a food truck and a stand at Lancaster Central Market.
Acai bowls, which have been popular in other parts of the country for a few years, have a base made of a pureed form of the acai berry and are often topped with fruit, peanut butter, granola and other ingredients.
The dark purple acai berry, native to Brazil, has been touted as a superfood for its antioxidant properties.
On Tuesday, Snider and Ferderbar will celebrate their first few weeks of business with Oola Bowl samples on the upper level of Lancaster Central Market from 3-3:30 p.m., followed by a ribbon-cutting at the stand and a happy hour at a nearby pub for family, friends and supporters.
We recently sat down with Snider, 26, and Ferderbar, 29, to talk about their business and about acai bowls in general.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you launch the business?
Snider: Celebrate Lancaster was our first event with the truck. We ran out of granola and acai about three times. We had heard there was an opportunity (for the Central Market stand). But we weren’t sure we were going to (get the stand). So we spent our money on a food trailer.Ferderbar: Right as we got the food truck up and running and got our certifications, we found out we had the market stand. So we ran the food truck for two or three weeks before we opened the market stand.
How did you know each other before you started the business?
Ferderbar: Brock and I have been friends for a little while. We met each other through the Chamber of Commerce.
Snider: I used to work in sales at Murray Securus (insurance). We’re both very involved with the Lancaster Young Professionals. ... Joe has a very entrepreneurial mind, like myself, and it was one of those things we’ve always liked to do — come up with new ideas.
Ferderbar: I have a sign business, Signarama, on Columbia Avenue. There probably wasn’t a business event here that the two of us weren’t at. You see a familiar face enough times and you become friends. We would always talk about the latest episode of “Shark Tank” or new business ideas that we had.
Snider: I had a fudge business in high school and college. And (I) was considering bringing my fudge business back. ... I sort of abandoned that idea.
Working downtown, it seemed like in the middle of the week, Joe and I were always looking for a (quick, convenient) healthy food choice. And we just couldn’t find it, if Market wasn’t open and we couldn’t get a salad.
Ferderbar: That’s what got the wheels spinning and got us excited about (selling acai bowls).
What is the acai base in your bowls?
Snider: All of our bowls start with the acai sorbet base. That’s what differentiates us from the other smoothie bowls or acai bowls. A lot of times (others’ bowls) start with a sugary syrup substance that they mix with almond milk, frozen bananas, frozen strawberries, and kind of bring it into a smoothie consistency. That adds a lot of sugars and preservatives and things of that nature. It really takes away from the naturally great things about the acai berry.
Keeping it frozen allows us to have less sugars and more nutritional value.
Ferderbar: Our (acai base) has more of a creamy consistency to it. That was a big thing for us. We said if we were going to sell these and tell people they’re healthy, we have to keep the nutritional value, or the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value — the measure of antioxidants. Acai berry has a really high ORAC value.
What else can customers have in their bowls?
Snider: It’s how you can create your own bowl. We give you the two or three choices to help new people who never had acai bowls before to give them a starting point as to what we suggest on the bowls.
Ferderbar: Everything we have is dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free and vegan, except for our honey (which is optional). There’s no high-fructose corn syrup.
We have granola, banana, pacoca, strawberries, blueberries, hemp seed, chia seed, flax seed, coconut flakes, honey and peanut butter. We’ve had a Nutella bowl as a featured bowl, and we think that will also pretty much be a standard part of our menu. Probably the next bowl we’re going to roll out is a berry bowl — raspberry, blackberry, blueberry.
Ferderbar: Pacoca (pah-SOH-kah) is a protein peanut mixture that’s salty and sweet. We use it as a topping. It’s like the peanuts in your sundae or your chunky peanut butter, but a little bit finer.
I went to Spain. My sister was getting married there. And lo and behold, the bottom floor of my sister’s building is an acai cafe. Their bowls were so good, and they use this stuff called pacoca. We’ve rarely seen acai bowls (with it) in the U.S., but when you’re in Europe, everyone uses this stuff.
Where do you get the granola?
Snider: It’s my Grandma Nancy Snider’s recipe. She lives down in Quarryville, and she has been so supportive of us. All of our family members have been a part of this. My grandma taught me how to cook and bake. My passion for food and cooking has stemmed from my Grandma Snider, in particular. We hope to sell it at the stand in the future.
How can your customers find the food truck?
Snider: You can check our Facebook page and our Instagram page. And we’re in the process of redoing the website, so you can look there, as well.
What’s in the future for the business?
Snider: We’re going to introduce a line of smoothies in the food truck. And for the fall, we’re going to be introducing oatmeal bowls — with acai in them, or baked apples, cinnamon, maple.We’re developing online ordering. If you want to order a half-hour ahead, if there’s a long line, we can get it ready for you and freeze it. You don’t want to get the fruit to get too frozen on top, but as long as we stay under an hour, we’re in good shape.
Ferderbar: A lot of people have requested pineapple and mango (in the bowls), so we may do that. And peaches, when they’re in season.
Snider: As we grow, we look to expand the menu and add different fruits, like kiwi.
Ferderbar: The first time I ever had an acai bowl, I said, “I’m going to go home and make these.” And you quickly realize that it’s just not the same. We’d love to get to the point where we could sell half-gallons of the acai (sorbet) so people can make their own bowls at home. We’re a certified vendor for our (acai) supplier.
And we’re talking with our supplier about ... being able to offer pitaya bowls, with dragon fruit sorbet.
Snider: It’s pink, with little black dots (seeds) in it.
Ferderbar: It has a different nutrition profile than acai. But it still has the antioxidants.
Snider: We want to do some health seminars, based around healthy eating, as well. We’re looking at rolling those out in the fall, for wellness committees for different companies. That’s from my insurance background; we did so many health and wellness seminars that I want to take that expertise and put that into wellness training.
Why is it called Oola Bowls?
Ferderbar: We had a lot of different names we were considering. One day, Brock said, “How about Oola?”
Snider: Someone helping us with our marketing said, “That’s perfect. It starts with an ‘O’ and that’s the shape of a bowl.” We looked it up and found that a guy wrote a book called “Oola Life,” which is defined as a state of awesomeness. It’s based on community, family, food, faith. It’s about living a balanced life and having a balanced diet in an unbalanced world.
What has the response been like to the bowls?
Snider: It’s been very interesting to see how Lancaster has embraced it, but also the tourism, too. One thing we’re very proud of is the return-customer base that we have. There’s a lot of people coming back two or three times a week to get our bowls. To me, that speaks a thousand words. We’re hoping to create a brand where people trust us to bring them a healthy lunch alternative.
Ferderbar: One thing we’ve been surprised by is that when one person in an office gets (a bowl), then another and another does. We’ve had a lot of companies and big groups that want us to cater for them. We want to flesh that out and see how we can make that more efficient for them.
I think we didn’t realize the value in having a permanent spot, and Central Market is a tough thing to recreate — just the traffic that comes through. We’ve been very surprised. There are people not from the area who say, “Oh, acai bowls! I didn’t think you'd have those in Lancaster.”
Snider: For me, when we give someone a bowl and they say this is great, that makes my day.