Just BEE Acai is a mobile food truck serving Acai bowls, loaded oats, specialty toasts, and selling locally-made gifts. CCP spoke with owner, Emma Reinbold.
You originally went to school to become a teacher. What motivated you to switch industries and open your business?
I went to the University of Illinois for Special Education and graduated in 2017. I had a great third grade teacher and from then on, education was a vision for me! After graduation I accepted a teaching position in my hometown, Monticello, but I realized soon that it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I felt like my hands were tied: there was so much pressure to focus on academics that I couldn’t express myself and truly love the kids. I only taught for one year, but it was a year of personal struggles and figuring out what to do next. I asked myself what I was passionate about, and realized that it was helping, serving, and filling the lives of others with joy while connecting and establishing relationships. We’re eating all the time, often in the company of others, and establishing these deep connections, so I felt in my heart that food service was the path I needed to take!
What was your inspiration for opening a mobile food truck specifically serving acai?
A lot of things went into the food truck idea: I wanted to bring my business to the people rather than them needing to seek out a brick and mortar. It offered flexibility to go to festivals, farmers markets, organizations, and other activities. It was also a low-risk and low-overhead way to introduce the community to acai, since we had none in town. I was inspired to sell acai because I went to Hawaii a couple of years ago and had my first acai bowl there. I fell in love with it: the taste, the energy I had, I craved it all vacation! I started making them at home and wanted to fill the void we had in the community for healthy, wholesome, on-the-go, and unique food.
Just BEE Acai has been insanely popular ever since its debut on campus last August. What’s a typical day like for you?
A lot of people ask us why we’re only open for a few hours a day, and it’s because there’s just so much that goes into running the food truck that people don’t see. We start prep work at 6:00 a.m.: cutting fruit, prepping deliveries, and fulfilling catering orders. From 8:00-10:00 a.m. we make deliveries, and then open the truck for business at 10:00. Legally as a food truck we’re only allowed to be open for 4-5 hours. After we close the truck, we clean up and prepare inventory for the morning. And I haven’t even mentioned the other ten hats I have to wear handling social media, emails, and other promotions!
What’s it like working with your family? (Emma’s sister Cassie, who also works on the truck, is pictured with her above.)
It’s a blessing and a curse! I love that we’re a family business; you can’t find employees that have the same heart and passion for something you created outside of your own family. They’re motivated and there to support me on all levels at any time of day. You won’t find that in most employees you hire. Opening the business set us all on a new journey and brought us closer on different levels. Being parents, siblings, and business partners all at the same time pushes us into uncomfortable territory sometimes, but ultimately leads to growth. I’ve loved seeing my sister step in and take charge this past year in the truck!
You’ve made some great partnerships with other small businesses & startups in the community. Can you tell us a little more about that?
One of my visions for Just BEE Acai is to grow up with other local entrepreneurs. Our purpose is to help and serve others, so this is the best way to do it. I love the mentality of partnering with others and encouraging their successes, and they’ll do the same for you. Everyone has their own network in the community and partnering with others allows your business to tap into a whole other network! We focus on small startups with a lot to offer; most recently we’ve partnered with Clay & Thread, a student duo who make jewelry, and Smelly Elle Candles, run by a man from the Bloomington area who made his first candle as a craft and it became a passion! He’s on the autism spectrum, and as a former special education teacher it means a lot to me to support people with special needs. Eventually I would love to hire people with special needs and focus on the job training end of my degree to empower and give them a place to serve others.
This is still your first year of business. Can you share some of the ups and downs you’ve experienced this first year? What are you excited for in 2020?
The “up” that stands out the most is how overwhelmingly supportive this community has been. We thought we’d have to push our product and fight for customers so much more since we have a unique product. This town is so supportive of small businesses; it was unexpected. The biggest “down” has been finding a balance between work and life. It’s really hard to shut off the business at the end of the day. Friends and family have definitely taken the back burner, but in recent months I’ve been doing a little better at finding that balance.
And finally, what’s your favorite item on the menu?
My favorite item actually isn’t even on the menu! The typical bowl I make for myself is about 25% acai, 50% blueberries, and 25% crunchy toppings like coconut and goji berries! My sister calls it an “acai bowl cereal” to make fun of me. As far as the menu goes, my favorite items are usually the seasonal ones. We create three bowls, two toasts, and two or three drinks. We can’t wait to reveal our spring seasonal menu!