Tag Archives: Culture

Princeton boasts dueling acai options

By Daniela Vivas

Arlando, FL

The acai craze is nationwide, and Princeton is no exception. A few steps away from the Princeton University campus are two popular acai bowl eateries, both family-run businesses owned by working moms who used to have 9-to-5 jobs.

Haydee Kapetanakis, 49, co-owns Frutta Bowls, on Nassau Street, with her husband, George, but she previously worked in human resources at a pharmaceutical company. She and her kids, who are 12 and 9, first tried acai four years ago and loved it. The store, which Kapetanakis calls their “little baby,” opened its doors in March. She’s very proud of providing jobs for 22 local residents.

A short distance away from Frutta Bowls is another well-known local business called Tico’s, which started in 2006 as the dream of a Costa Rican man and became the life of a whole family. Renee De Bernard, 48, co-owns the eatery with her husband, Ammel.

Tico’s started as a Latin food restaurant known for their tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and salads. De Bernard kept her day job, in accounting, until Tico’s was established enough for her to quit. When one of her customers introduced her to acai bowls two years ago, she added it to the menu. The superfood eventually became so popular that the kitchen ran out of space, and the couple decided to shrink the food choices on their menu.

Being part of the community for 12 years requires a lot of time and effort. De Bernard, her husband, and their two sons, 15 and 11, participate every Saturday in the West Windsor Community Farmers’ Market. At the market, the family offers acai bowls, smoothies, and juices from a food truck. It’s a way for the family to promote their business while staying involved in the community. In addition to the weekly market and their regular customers, the owners rely on their sons’ social-media skills to help them spread the word on Instagram and Facebook.

Despite two different initial approaches—Frutta Bowls jumped right into the acai trend, while Tico’s evolved from a Latin food restaurant—both businesses incorporate similar formulas for success: community outreach, family, and acai.

Acai craze comes to Princeton

By Fernando Cienfuegos and Aurora Rivera

Azusa, CA and Los Angeles, CA

Hidden on the corner of Witherspoon and Spring streets in Princeton is a small juice bar that brings Latin American flavor to Central Jersey. Inside Tico’s, co-founder Renee De Bernard serves up healthy juices and acai bowls.

“I think it’s amazing that we’ve become such an integral part of this community,” De Bernard said.

She wasn’t always in the acai business. When she and her husband, Ammel, first bought the restaurant, then called Moondoggie Café, in 2006, she worked as an accountant while her husband ran the business. (They changed the name to Tico’s, the nickname for a Costa Rican—Ammel grew up there—shortly after taking over Moondoggie.) In the beginning, the family found it was difficult to balance work and a home life. But as soon as the business was able to keep the family afloat, De Bernard decided to leave her job in order to take care of her kids and help her husband live out his dream of running a successful business.

“When we decided we were going to open this business, we knew it was not going to be easy,” De Bernard said. “To make it work, we needed to put in the hours.”

With two sons, 11 and 15, the De Bernards take turns opening and closing the juice bar throughout the day.

Two years ago, De Bernard decided to serve up the newest trend: acai bowls. But when it comes to acai, Princetonians have options. Down the block from Tico’s is Frutta Bowls, the newest of the acai bowl vendors on Nassau Street.

“It’s a craze right now!” owner Haydee Kapetanakis said. Frutta Bowls, founded in New Jersey in 2016 and now operating in 14 states, opened its Princeton location this year.

Like De Bernard, Kapetanakis wasn’t always in the food business. Kapetanakis spent the past 30 years in human resources working for a pharmaceutical company. Her husband, George, works in the medical field doing cardiovascular studies, giving the family a decorated background in the wellness business. They previously owned kickboxing gyms, adding on to their résumes in the health and wellness field, and are now pursuing the food industry, trying to figure it out along the way.

Since opening five months ago, Frutta Bowls has tried to reach out to Princetonians through different fundraising events and community activities. Kapetanakis wants to continue emphasizing community outreach, but she also wants to prioritize her life outside of acai.

“I wanted some flexibility with my family,” Kapetanakis said about her former job, where she said she worked demanding hours. “I needed that balance. I want to make sure that I’m there for my kids.”