Written by The Business Journal Staff
Located on Fulton Street where the old Iron Bird Café used to be, Rio Acai Bowls main menu item is the acai bowl, which consists of acai berry sorbet topped with granola, bananas, strawberries and other optional toppings. Acai bowls have no added sugar or preservatives and the health benefits come from the antioxidants found in the acai berry, which is considered a superfood.
Rio Acai Bowls also offers smoothies and poke bowls — bowls of rice topped with Ahi tuna, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds and various spices and sauces. Coffee from Lanna and baked goods from Guiltless Pastries are also sold at Rio.
Sophia Cummings, who co-owns the café with her husband Justin, said they started Rio Acai Bowls in Bakersfield after falling in love with acai while participating in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments in the Bay Area and Southern California.
“We would go to NorCal and SoCal and have these bowls that no one in Central California or the San Joaquin Valley offered, and we thought they were amazing,” Cummings said. “Win, lose or draw, we would always leave a tournament with three or four acai bowls for the weekend.”
When Justin suffered a back injury and could no longer do his day job, the couple decided to become entrepreneurs and bring the acai bowls they loved to the Valley. At first, Justin spearheaded the venture while Sophia continued her career as a teacher, but when the acai bowls took off in Bakersfield, Sophia left her job to join Justin at the first Rio Acai Bowls storefront in Bakersfield’s downtown.
With six kids to support at the time—now seven—Cummings said the transition made her nervous.
Thankfully, she said, the citizens of Bakersfield fell in love with the bowls just like she did and the business thrived.
The success in Bakersfield made the Cummings wonder whether the acai bowls would also be a hit in Fresno. After some research, the couple settled on the Iron Bird Lofts location—a space that has been vacant for three years.
Cummings admits choosing the Downtown Fresno location was risky, but she believes the rewards of downtown are worth it.
“We believe in downtown,” Cummings said. “We saw the fruits of our labor in downtown Bakersfield so when we came here we wanted to be downtown. We had the naysayers and specifically one friend who told us not to go to Downtown Fresno because it is where businesses go to die. It’s a scary thought, but rather than scare us off, it did the contrary; it gave us a push.
Just a few weeks in, Cummings said the Fresno community has been welcoming and already she is recognizing the faces of Rio’s regulars. While the Cummings came to Fresno blind, not knowing anyone in the area, she said they have quickly come to love the city and the support of its citizens.
Through word-of-mouth and social media alone, she said Rio Acai Bowls has enjoyed a steady stream of customers during the lunch and dinner rush.
Cummings said the goal is for the business to grow and also become a part of the community. For example, Cummings said she would like to see local art featured on the café walls and on the tables as centerpieces.
“We want the community to be a part of Rio as it grows and expands, and we left these walls blank with purpose,” Cummings said.